This bit of history is too hard to put into my own words, so I will let the author’s notes do it for me;
“The Russian Revolution and the subsequent Civil War were history dramas that drastically changed the European political map. But there is a little-known aspect of the great Russian upheaval that is as bizarre, exciting, and tragic as any other.
From early 1918 until October 1919, the arctic forests of North Russia were occupied by troops of an astonishing variety of nationality and purpose. Starting as a revival of the war on the Eastern Front when the Russians made a separate peace with Germany in the midst of the Great War of 1914-1918, the struggle took on an unexpected and complex nature when the Armistice was signed in November 1918. Former enemies became friends, old allies became hostile.
In those forests through the dark frozen winter and short summer of perpetual daylight were British, French, Italians, Czechs, Canadians, Americans, Finns, Karelians-and Russians, of course. Red Russian, White Russians, partisans, counter-revolutionaries, starving peasants, political refugees, released convicts, mercenaries-all fighting for the future of Russia and all with different aims.”
British engineer Paul Anderson takes command of a remote Russian station with orders to repair the damaged bridge and keep the railroad lines clear for allied forces. Bitter over the Russian’s withdrawal from war in 1917, Paul is none too thrilled to team with Colonel Alexander Swarovsky and the two form an uneasy alliance that is sorely tested when it’s apparent there is a traitor among their group. Is it one of the British soldiers, or is there a secret Bolshevik in Swarovsky’s troop of peasant soldiers? And what of the Red army soldiers bent on killing them all?
“Throughout this beautiful land of pines and lakes the wolves were gathering-but it was not the grey ones that would drive him away.”
Further complicating things are the colonel’s wife Irina and sister Olga. Unstable Olga is hot for Paul, but Paul only has eyes for Irina and she feels the same. Into this mix comes the unexpected appearance of Swarovsky’s former mistress Lyudmilla Zapalova, Imperial ballerina trying to high-tail it out of Russia. Eventually, the allies pull out and Paul faces his greatest challenge, getting them all out safely from their remote outpost and to a port where ships are waiting to take him (and perhaps Irina?) back to England – not an easy task with the onset of an unforgiving Russian winter.
“Now the little engine was expected to make a four-day journey up and down dangerous inclines, across unstable bridges, round treacherous bends, and through forest under attack from biting cold.”
This book started off quite slow for me and I almost bailed a couple of times. A lot of details of building the railroad bridge were a bit tedious and I really didn’t warm up to Paul and Irina as a couple until the very end (sniff). That said, the flight to safety on the rickety railroad was some seriously riveting stuff and Darrell really keeps you on pins and needles wondering if every one will make it out alive. Three stars for the first half and four for the latter, rounded out to 3.5.
FTC? Library loot.