Daniel Mason • Little, Brown and Company • September 11, 2018 • 336 Pages
Twenty-two year old Lucius has only one love: medicine. Despite his high-society mother’s attempts to direct him toward a more socially impressive vocation, Lucius can only think of anatomy, disease, and surgery. He’s in medical school when World War I begins, and since Austria is in desperate need of doctors, Lucius enlists and is immediately sent to an out-of-the-way field hospital in the Carpathian Mountains. It is there that he learns how to be a true doctor, with the many injured and critically ill soldiers giving him plenty of opportunities to learn about amputations, pain, disease, and PTSD.
It’s also where he first falls in love. Nurse (and nun) Margarete is arguably a better doctor than Lucius, having run the hospital after many doctors deserted or died. She gives Lucius guidance and support, and teaches him how to mend and tend the soldiers to bring them back to health. But Margarete is not exactly what she seems, and the more Lucius falls for her, the more he senses she isn’t being honest about her past. He must walk the delicate line of being open to her without scaring her away, all while a brutal war rages around them.
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The Winter Soldier gets off to a slow start. Lucius isn’t exactly a thrilling character, and I kept waiting for the story to pick up. Thankfully, once he ships off to the mountains, the book definitely gets better. I did really enjoy watching him interact with Margarete and the other hospital workers, and I liked seeing his romantic relationship with Margarete develop.
However, about halfway through the book, the story shifts again. I don’t want to give too much away, but (MINOR SPOILER ALERT), Lucius’s circumstances change, and he is forced to see less of Margarete. At that point, the story focuses mostly on Lucius’s melancholy state of mind brought about by the war. In fact, I would say that “war” is the main character of the second half of the book—which is fine, but also…meh.
It doesn’t help that the end of the book is such a pooper. I got to the final pages and actually said out loud, “Are you kidding me? I came all this way for this?!” It was really disappointing and lackluster. I felt like author Daniel Mason was trying so hard to make a point about THE HOPELESSNESS OF WAR. (Insert weeping and isolation and agony and TORMENTED LOVE here!) I wanted more story, more character development, more relationship—and less vignettes on the effects of fighting, famine, and conflict. It all just fell apart for me in the end.
So this book is just okay. It held my interest, but if I had known it was going to end the way it did, I wouldn’t have put in the effort.
Thank you to Little, Brown and Company and Amazon Vine for the Advanced Reader Copy!