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The Winter Soldier by Daniel Mason



Vienna, 1914. Lucius is a twenty-two-year-old medical student when World War One explodes across Europe. Enraptured by romantic tales of battlefield surgery, he enlists, expecting a position at a well-organized field hospital. But when he arrives, at a commandeered church tucked away high in a remote valley of the Carpathian Mountains, he finds a freezing outpost ravaged by typhus. The other doctors have fled, and only a single, mysterious nurse named Sister Margarete remains.

But Lucius has never lifted a surgeon’s scalpel. And as the war rages across the winter landscape, he finds himself falling in love with the woman from whom he must learn a brutal, makeshift medicine.

Then one day, an unconscious soldier is brought in from the snow, his uniform stuffed with strange drawings. He seems beyond rescue, until Lucius makes a fateful decision that will change the lives of doctor, patient and nurse forever.

From the gilded ballrooms of Imperial Vienna to the frozen forests of the Eastern Front; from hardscrabble operating rooms to battlefields thundering with Cossack cavalry, The Winter Soldier is the story of war and medicine, of family, of finding love in the sweeping tides of history, and, finally, of the mistakes we make, and the precious opportunities to atone.

(Taken from https://www.panmacmillan.com/authors/daniel-mason/the-winter-soldier/9780330458320)


MY THOUGHTS: The Winter Soldier is a story set in WW1, Lucius is studying to become a doctor when the war breaks. Although his father wants him to follow in his own footsteps and sign up as a soldier Lucius is keen to continue his studies. Having already studied for a good few years and yet to actually get his hands on a patient, Lucius is drawn into the idea of signing up to act as a doctor to help the injured soldiers. He is led to believe that he will work alongside qualified doctors and get on the job training which is what he is longing for. However, things don't quite go to plan. Lucius arrives at the 'hospital' to find only a nurse on sight, Sister Margarete. It is through watching and assisting her that he learns how to amputate limbs and gain the experience he is lacking through his text books.

It is during his time Lemnowice that the story really unfolds and captures not only your imagination but your heart. Throughout the book there is subtle humour which helps lift the story especially given the subject matter. Margarete is a lovable character and provides a softness that I think the book requires.

Half way through the book the title is mentioned and it begins to shape where the novel is going, which was a pleasant surprise as up until this point I hadn't really given the title a thought in relation to the story. There are a few gruesome sections which you would expect from a war story but the novel balances itself out with the elements of romance.

This was a really surprising book, it touched upon PTSD, family pressure, love, longing, hope and loneliness. The ending was unforeseen and I liked the little twist at the end, however, I'm not sure I fully appreciate what the final words implied. In my mind it meant he was free to move on and leave the past behind. But I may have completely misunderstood.

Things I loved about the book:

  • The Front Cover. Such a gorgeous cover, soft green with gold writing and reflected light.

  • The tongue in cheek humour. I found this eased me into the story. I especially liked the humour centred around his training and when he first meets Margarete.

  • Margarete. A no-nonsense woman when we first meet her which I loved. For me Margarete was the only character to remain strong but also show a softer side to her personality. The other characters all seemed harsh and unlikable.

  • The Harshness of War. I think because the novel centred in the field hospitals that were scattered all around the war zones you got a better indication of the severity of the injured. Which although gruesome is what I felt gave this novel a lift. It also touched on the mental health issues the soldiers were suffering from which I felt was an important thing to acknowledge.

  • The Different Genres that crossed over. I tend to stay away from romantic novels but having the element of romance, war and mystery weaving its way into this story was what brought the story line together and made it such an enjoyable read.

I would definitely recommend this book to others, it is quite heavy going at the beginning but the added humour helps to ease you into the story. As it progresses you meet a host of colourful characters and are swept away with the story. I haven't read any Daniel Mason books before but am now eager to read The Piano Tuner.

Thank you Picador for a copy of The Winter Soldier and introducing me to the author Daniel Mason.

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