Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Kate Quinn has firmly cemented her place among the best historical fiction writers of today a few novels, and she continues her good literary streak with The Huntress. The story is composed of three narratives, each one following in some way the titular Huntress, a Nazi war criminal of legendary proportions.
Table of contents
Kate Quinn Creates the Enemy
We are fast approaching the century-mark since the end of the Second World War, but it still fuels our thoughts and imaginations as powerfully as ever, giving way to works such as The Huntress by Kate Quinn. Such an unimaginably large event has countless facets to explore and I’m rather confident we’ll keep seeing more of them brought to light in the coming decades, if of course the Third World War doesn’t happen by then. In her novel, Kate Quinn decided to turn her attention to a special element, one of the long-lasting remnants of evil from what war: Nazis in hiding.
Before moving on further, I’d just like to note I’ve seen many people asking: “Is The Huntress based on a true story?” The short answer is that it is based on a composite of the lives of two real women, Hermine Braunsteiner (a female camp guard) and Erna Petri (an SS officer’s wife). How much of it is fact and how much is fiction? Kate Quinn answers this question in detail in her author’s note, but I think her ability to blur the line between the end of reality and the start of fiction proves valuable on numerous occasions. In any case, on with the show.
To kick off The Huntress by Kate Quinn summary, it is a three-pronged novel, presenting us with a triple narrative where the events take place over the course of many decades, all of them relating to the titular character, a Nazi war criminal of legendary proportions. The first narrative takes us during the time of the war, where Night Witch Nina Makarova crashes behind enemy lines and becomes stranded. The Huntress, with an already lethal reputation back then, is hot on her trail, and only a miracle can keep Nina alive.
The second narrative introduces us to Ian Graham, a British war correspondent and Nazi Hunter… with only one target to have truly eluded him: the Huntress. However, the investigator sees an opportunity to perhaps bring to a close this unfinished business by joining forces with the only victim to have escaped the Huntress’ claws: Nina Makarova. Finally, the third narrative presents us with the seventeen-year-old Jordan McBride, with aspirations to one day become a photographer. He is only rejoiced when one day his widowed father returns home with a new fiancee, a soft-spoken German widow. The more he looks at her though, the more something seems terribly wrong…
No Time to Rest with The Huntress
For the most part, historical fiction novels have a tendency to be fairly slow and descriptive in their nature, if only for the need to establish proper context for the sake of the audience. As such, authors are trying different ways to offset this sort of natural boredom which can creep into their stories. Some jam-pack it with action, others make their descriptions larger-than-life… Kate Quinn, in her own corner, has decided to try and give us more story lines to contend with.
How exactly does this approach fare in practice?
Well, for the most part I can’t say I ever found myself bored to any considerable extent, save for a couple of slower passages towards the middle of the book, which I think can ultimately be overlooked. The jumps from one plot to the other are always well-managed and never feel out of place or too abrupt. Our curiosity is fed while still giving us new conflicts to look forward to and questions to resolve. Even though there are certainly historical descriptions placed throughout the novel, the jumps from one timeline to the next contribute heavily in making the pace feel faster and more exciting.
Time is a wheel, vast and indifferent, and when time rolls on and men forget, we face the risk of circling back.― Kate Quinn, The Huntress
With this being said, while we are constantly feeling like we’re moving forward, this doesn’t mean events explode one after the other with nary a second to absorb anything. I think Quinn managed something rather impressive, as the main ingredients of the plot are left to simmer over longer periods, during which we are distracted with the preparation of secondary ingredients, so to speak. As such, all the elements develop at a speed matching their purpose, but we, the readers, are none the wiser until we stop to think about it.
The Inequality of Narratives
When we are presented with multiple narratives, I find that in ninety-nine percent of cases there comes an unavoidable drawback: not all stories will be equally interesting, depending on the reader. Personally-speaking, I found the first narrative, following Nina Makarova’s journey to survival behind enemy lines, was lacking in some aspects in relation to the other two.
After about the halfway point of it, my interest was beginning to dwindle, especially since we know from the other narratives Nina does escape with her life intact. While it is by no means badly written, I did feel it brought some superfluous elements to the table.
On the other hand, the timeline following Ian Graham and Nina’s hunt for the Huntress was exceptionally well-written, with a detailed investigation which constantly motivated me to think, hope and react along with our main characters. Quinn has obviously done a large amount of research into all of the historical topics she touches upon, and watching the process of hunting a Nazi, even through a fictional lens, was nothing short of exhilarating.
Overall though, I would say the author manages to achieve quite a bit by merging these three stories into one book. There are many insights, especially in the third narrative, about the tremendous and yet unseen consequences war bears on individual people, how years and years down the line it can still worm its way into people’s fates. In the end, even truth and justice can come at a deadly price, and even they cannot undo all the evil and devastation of humankind’s stupidity.
|560||William Morrow||Feb. 26 2019||978-0062740373|
The Final Verdict
The Huntress by Kate Quinn is a remarkable work of WWII historical fiction, with three very well-written narratives despite a couple of weaknesses in the first one. If you enjoy stories about Nazi hunting and which tend to explore the more human aspect of war, then I strongly recommend you add this book to your collection.
Kate Quinn is a bestselling author in both New York Times and USA Today, with her primary focus revolving around historical fiction. She also holds a Master’s degree in Classic Voice from Boston University. After writing four books for the Empress of Rome Saga, she moved on to the 20th century with The Huntress and The Alice Network.