Truth time: I was really, really nervous about picking up Kate Quinn’s newest novel, The Huntress. Her 2017 release, The Alice Network, is was an utter delight — and when I love one title from an author, I worry that the next one will be a disappointment, or that the first novel was a fluke.
So I put off reading The Huntress, and now I am mired in regret that I waited so long to read it, because let me tell you: The Huntress is EXCELLENT. It is not just a worthy successor to The Alice Network. It is just plain outstanding, though there’s nothing plain about this book.
The Huntress has plenty in common with The Alice Network – multiple timelines, an outrageous older female protagonist and a younger one finding her voice, a reckoning of damage done during wartime and a white-knuckle climax – but it revisits those things with added depth, resonance, and complexity.
The book braids together three stories – that of Nina Markova, a Russian girl who eventually becomes a member of the Night Witches, the all-female fighter pilots who waged war on the Reich’s Eastern Front; Ian Graham, a British war-correspondent-turned-Nazi-hunter obsessed with finding The Huntress, a legendary, ruthless war criminal, and Jordan McBride, an American girl with dreams of being a photojournalist, who begins to suspect that her father’s new wife has a secret past. As the three timelines intertwine, the Huntress grows more dangerous, and all three characters must come to terms with their past – and what they want their futures to be — in order to survive.
Individually, the three protagonists are compelling, sharply and sympathetically drawn characters, but it’s Nina and Jordan who are the stars of the show. Nina’s ferocious nature not only makes sense as her backstory is revealed, but it actually becomes endearing – she also provides much of the novel’s comic relief. Jordan, with her photographer’s eye and generous heart, struggles to balance her devotion to her family with her own dreams – and the roles that a post-WWII society deems acceptable for her. Just as in The Alice Network, Kate Quinn’s female characters are strong, complex, and unapologetically themselves – even The Huntress herself is fascinating, because you never quite know how much of her is real and how much is legend and rumor that sprang from postwar chaos.
There is so, so much to love in this novel – as the characters come together and the hunt begins in earnest, the tension ratchets up, making it nearly impossible to stop reading. It’s tempting to skim, because at 500+ pages, The Huntress is not exactly a novella, and the urge to find out how it ends is so strong. But resist, if you can, because the world Kate Quinn creates is so immersive and detailed, and her prose is so finely, thoughtfully crafted, that to gobble it up would mean missing the many layers and moments that make the book such a masterpiece. There’s no fluke — only a resounding success, and a new favorite.