Review: The Huntress by Kate Quinn


In the aftermath of war, the hunter becomes the hunted… 

Bold and fearless, Nina Markova always dreamed of flying. When the Nazis attack the Soviet Union, she risks everything to join the legendary Night Witches, an all-female night bomber regiment wreaking havoc on the invading Germans. When she is stranded behind enemy lines, Nina becomes the prey of a lethal Nazi murderess known as the Huntress, and only Nina’s bravery and cunning will keep her alive.

Transformed by the horrors he witnessed from Omaha Beach to the Nuremberg Trials, British war correspondent Ian Graham has become a Nazi hunter. Yet one target eludes him: a vicious predator known as the Huntress. To find her, the fierce, disciplined investigator joins forces with the only witness to escape the Huntress alive: the brazen, cocksure Nina. But a shared secret could derail their mission unless Ian and Nina force themselves to confront it.

Growing up in post-war Boston, seventeen-year-old Jordan McBride is determined to become a photographer. When her long-widowed father unexpectedly comes homes with a new fiancée, Jordan is thrilled. But there is something disconcerting about the soft-spoken German widow. Certain that danger is lurking, Jordan begins to delve into her new stepmother’s past—only to discover that there are mysteries buried deep in her family . . . secrets that may threaten all Jordan holds dear.

In this immersive, heart-wrenching story, Kate Quinn illuminates the consequences of war on individual lives, and the price we pay to seek justice and truth.

RATING: ☆★☆★

I might not be currently lying on the floor physically, but I am lying on the floor spiritually…

Building a generation is like building a wall—one good well-made brick at a time, one good well-made child at a time. Enough good bricks, you have a good wall. Enough good children, you have a generation that won’t start a world-enveloping war.

If ever a standalone novel cried out to become a full-fledged series, The Huntress is it. Quinn’s storytelling is suffused with grace, dazzle and heart—not to mention a sharp, saw-toothed edge of darkness. Telegraphed in clipped prose and dialogue that’s as taut as ship ropes and anchored in an ever-present undercurrent of tension that occasionally bursts into tiffs, The Huntress (mostly) maintains an impeccable pace, even as the novel veers from character to character, from past to present and back again.

World War II is over, and former war correspondent Ian Graham is standing in its ashes. It might have been enough to say that they have all passed through a long, dark time and come out of it alive and strong. Ian might have turned aside and gone about his life, giddy with relief that such burdens weren’t his to shoulder anymore. Most would have. Ian Graham didn’t. Not when the Huntress is still hanging over his head like an axe. “I’m done writing instead of doing,” says Ian who, alongside his partner and Jewish polyglot Tony Rodomovsky, has made the road his home when he’d embarked on the shabby affair of hunting war criminals. One name gleams brighter than the others: Lorelei Vogt, also known as the Huntress—a Nazi who was responsible for the killing of several Polish refugees, many of whom were children. Ian’s desire for the Huntress to face justice has never been so piercing, the chasm of his hatred for her opening even deeper when Ian learns that his brother also died at her pitiless hands. And he’s not the only one.

In the darkness behind her shut lids, Nina Markova sees the same thing as Ian: the Huntress. Nina is one of the famed Russian bomber pilots known as the Night Witches. She is also the only person who faced the Huntress and lived to recount the tale. Together with Ian and Tony, Nina weights the fact, examines the strains and weaknesses of every claim and claimant, turning the scattered clues this way and that, upside down, then righting them again, but, often, there came the sense that they were all running full speed into a brick wall.

Meanwhile, in Boston lives Jordan McBride, a budding photographer who welcomed into her family an Austrian refugee named Annaliese as her new step-mother. Annaliese’s laconism and secrecy did little to dispel Jordan’s feeling that there was more to her father’s new bride than met the eye. A dozen times suspicion and doubt scorch Jordan—the discovery of a swastika charm concealed in Anna’s bridal bouquet and a candid shot of Anna that lent a chilling cruelty to her face—but its fire never burn through her skin. Her step-mother’s explanations are incontestable, and Jordan’s conviction, once absolute, wavers. Annaliese  has only ever shown Jordan kindness, and was the only person who encouraged her to nudge at the tantalizing door of her dreams with all its luminous secrets, even when her own father treated her ambitions as the trappings of a child, to be doffed as a grown woman.

Though the novel sags slightly in the middle, it’s when the characters’ separate journeys begin to entwine with one another, their struggles inexorably congealing into an overwhelming whole, and we come to the meetings of the waterways, that Quinn proves herself up to the task. She soon ratchets up the stakes to another level entirely, her writing and storytelling firing on all cylinders, and I felt as if there were a rope attached to my middle, towing me forward into the denouement.

Quinn also uses her setting to great effect and allows bursts of humor and camaraderie to shoot through the moral murk of the story, but it is the way she channels, with vivacious flourish, the triumphs and tribulations of real historical figures into a unique, engrossing and thought-provoking work of fiction that will last long after her conclusion is reached. Nina’s and Jordan’s narratives, especially, sing to the extraordinary women in history who worked tirelessly around, under or through the patriarchy that shaped their reality and went on to accomplish extraordinary feats. It’s what makes the Huntress a bold and innovative on the genre that proves that historical fiction does not have to confine itself to its more durable tropes and settings.

The dead lie beyond any struggle, so we living must struggle for them. We must remember, because there are other wheels that turn besides the wheel of justice. Time is a wheel, vast and indifferent, and when time rolls on and men forget, we face the risk of circling back. We slouch yawning to a new horizon and find ourselves gazing at old hatreds seeded and watered by forgetfulness and flowering into new wars. New massacres. New monsters like die Jägerin. Let this wheel stop. Let us not forget this time. Let us remember.

Quinn’s characters are also vibrantly human—driven by passion, duty and humanizing, terrifying flaws—and the third-person narration alternates seamlessly between Jordan, Ian and Nina.

There’s such a gravity to Ian Graham’s character. The war had burned his youth away, but the best parts of him had not been chipped away and sanded down to a hard callous. Ian is tough yet vulnerable, prickly yet charismatic, but for all his appearance of amiable, obdurate stability, he is actually a reckless, wildly erratic character. Ian’s shoulders strained to heft the weight of his grief-sprung rage; he wouldn’t let his brother become just a name in a casualty ledger, and he is willing to use up every ounce of his energy in this colossal, incessant yearning for justice. He’s given up on writing; “see enough horrors, the words run out,” says Ian. But it still pounded through him, hot as blood—the hunt. Ian’s hands tingled with it. And that’s where the lines of red he’s marked in his mind’s eye to keep his job from straying into “personal vendetta” territory begin to dim and wither. Was it still justice Ian sought so arduously or was it just a mask his impotent rage, fierce and red, has worn? This question underpins a large part of Ian’s characterization, and it’s quite arresting to read about.

Nina’s character is animated by a spiky, dangerous energy, and the slow but deft way Quinn peels back the hidden layers of her character is very compelling. Nina’s memory of the war, the woman she so fiercely loved, and that terrible encounter with the Huntress by the river is still pounding in her mind. There was a wildness to her, of hope and terror, that held its own allure. Nina is not easily frightened. She has never has been. Growing up with an abusive, drunkard of a father, Nina has only allowed herself one fear—a beseeching terror born the day he tried to drown her and she escaped.  From that day forward, other fears have become for other people, not for her. There’s a scene towards the end where we witness Nina leap at her fear’s throat and conquer it that held me quite literally at the edge of my seat.

Ian and Nina are united more tightly than ever in their condemnation of the Huntress. For most of the book, Ian is simply too wary of Nina to look away, the rodent watching the pacing cat. Nina recognizes the hunger that lays concealed in Ian—the kind that you can’t find a way to cheat or break: the one that made him “go to war with a typewriter instead of a gun” and not count the cost, and prompted her to seek a life of soaring into the sky like a wind-borne flower. I really loved their dynamics—how they rubbed their rough edges smooth against each other. Nina had molded too much of herself into cool marble, and Ian did not want her to shatter. Into the guarded world of her heart, he wished to enter, hoping that, one day, she’d feel for him some glimmer of what she felt for “her dark-eyed Moscow rose.

There is also a stark vividness to Jordan’s character, as the girl who wouldn’t yield any of her dreams and ambitions. Although the way her doubts about Annaliese never caught flight—and the way her thoughts kept eddying out for most of the novel, too fast to grab hold of, conclusions always out of reach—often strained credulity, I enjoyed reading her POVs. Tony was also such a fun presence, handsome and relentlessly charming, and his friendship with Ian had warmth as fire does (even when they bicker as old, married couples do.)

Battered souls like ours, Ian thought, tramping out of the wreckage of wars, always have guilt. Ghosts. Lakes and parachutes.

Overall, this is a novel not to be missed! Highly recommended!

4 thoughts on “Review: The Huntress by Kate Quinn

  1. What an excellent, descriptive review! I’m not usually a fan of WW2 fiction but I LOVE Kate Quinn’s writing so much (her Empress of Rome series is one of my all-time favorites) so I think I’ll have to check this book out 🙂


  2. Great review!! I really enjoyed this book! I haven’t read her other popular book The Alice Network but it’s on my list to read!


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