Author: Kate Quinn
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pub. Date: Mar. 2022
Now here’s a review I wish I’d written earlier. HarperCollins kindly sent me a copy of The Diamond Eye when it was released in exchange for an honest review, but I held off reading it because my book club really wanted to read it together. I wrote this review back in October (just before my book club meeting to collect my thoughts), but I never got around to posting it.
This was my third Kate Quinn novel as I’ve also read The Alice Network and The Rose Code. I read The Rose Code with book club last year and that one is still probably my favourite of the 3, but I can’t decide which I liked better of the other two. The Diamond Eye is set between Ukraine and America during the second world war. Mila Pavlichenko already has sharp-shooter training when war breaks out and immediately signs up for the war effort. Women weren’t precluded from fighting in the Soviet Union and when her skills are noticed, she quickly starts making a name for herself and winds up with her own team of snipers. Her continued success earns her the title of Lady Death and eventually she is sent to the US to rally Americans to the cause and develops an unlikely friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt.
The book starts out really strong. We learn of Mila’s history with her ex-husband and the child she’s been raising in his absence. It’s based on a true story and Mila herself is quite remarkable. That a single mother would have gotten her sharp-shooting certification at all is pretty intriguing, as is her success in the war. Women were so often relegated to the sidelines of the war effort – as nurses, or factory workers, or sometimes spies. But the Soviet Union allowed women on the front, which is quite unique on its own and presents a narrative I’ve not seen before in WWII fiction.
The first half of the book is really excellent. We accompany Mila as the Germans push the Soviets and the Soviets fight back. She develops both good and bad relationships with the men in her unit; succeeds despite the sexism of the senior male officials; and still has the odd verbal tussle with her frustrating ex, who is now a doctor in the war effort. The story is a little overly dramatized and I was annoyed that it followed a very similar sub-plot to The Rose Code, but otherwise, an excellent first half.
Unfortunately, the second half didn’t work as well for me. This book is too long. The entire second half of the book is set in America, but this plot wasn’t as engaging as the first half and was too dragged out. Had it been shorter, it might have been more effective, but I got bored around the 75% mark, which is a really bad part of the book to lose interest. Quinn takes a lot of liberty with the story in the second half and fabricates a lot of the central plot. Considering this book is centered around the real life of a real person, making up so much of the plot didn’t work for me. I felt that Quinn progressed the plot in intentionally dramatic ways and if those are not rooted in realism, it is a stain on the story. It makes the reader question what was based in fact and what was based in fiction. You have to commit one way or the other – either tell the truth, or create a fictional character with a different name. The Rose Code amalgamated several real people to form its fictional characters and I think that is a better approach if you want to deviate from real history. I don’t think you can have it both ways.
I think where this also lost me was the inclusion of another real life person, Eleanor Roosevelt, who is much more well known in real life than our protagonist. I didn’t know what to trust or where the line was for actual vs. fabricated history. The decision to include Eleanor’s “notes” and the POV of the gunmen were both interesting choices that definitely added to the drama of the story, but again, not the realism. Mila can anchor this story on her own. She is fascinating enough, Quinn didn’t need to bring Eleanor into the story in such a large way. I felt like it was a cheap way to build intrigue in the synopsis. I had similar thoughts about the inclusion of Prince Philip in The Rose Code, but I guess this is Quinn’s new thing and I’m sure it helps to sell books when you reference well-known historical figures like Eleanor Roosevelt and Prince Philip.
Anyways, overall it is a good book and an interesting story. I learned a lot and was engaged through most of the book. It wasn’t everything it could have been, but it was entertaining. Taking a peak at goodreads, my rating is on the lower side compared to the rest of my book club, who enjoyed it more than me. I’m sitting at a solid 3 star read – not bad, not great.