Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Girl Who Fought Napoleon by Linda Lafferty

The Girl Who Fought Napoleon: A Novel of the Russian Empire by Linda Lafferty
Published September 2016 by Lake Union Publishing
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
In a sweeping story straight out of Russian history, Tsar Alexander I and a courageous girl named Nadezhda Durova join forces against Napoleon. It’s 1803, and an adolescent Nadya is determined not to follow in her overbearing Ukrainian mother’s footsteps. She’s a horsewoman, not a housewife. When Tsar Paul is assassinated in St. Petersburg and a reluctant and naive Alexander is crowned emperor, Nadya runs away from home and joins the Russian cavalry in the war against Napoleon. Disguised as a boy and riding her spirited stallion, Alcides, Nadya rises in the ranks, even as her father begs the tsar to find his daughter and send her home.

Both Nadya and Alexander defy expectations—she as a heroic fighter and he as a spiritual seeker—while the battles of Austerlitz, Friedland, Borodino, and Smolensk rage on. In a captivating tale that brings Durova’s memoirs to life, from bloody battlefields to glittering palaces, two rebels dare to break free of their expected roles and discover themselves in the process.

My Thoughts:
Empress Catherine
  • Have I mentioned before that I'm fascinated by Russian Empress Catherine The Great? Have been since I was in grade school and read a biography about her which I still have. She was the (not very nice to him) mother of Tsar Paul and when I saw his name in the summary about this book I was pulled in. Lucky for me, I also got some of Catherine as well so that made me happy. 
Nadezhda Durova, aged approximately 13
  • Did you notice that bit in the summary about this book bringing Durova's memoirs to life? This book is a good reminder that there are not only a lot of people who have done brave and extraordinary things but also that a lot of those people were women. 
Durova's memoir was one of the few accounts of the Napoleonic wars told from the point of a junior officer and one of the earliest autobiographical works in Russian. Kudos to Lafferty for finding her amongst all of the stories in the world to tell.
  • While the title of this book may be The Girl Who Fought Napoleon, it shouldn't scare of male readers. This book's focus is much more on Nadya's experiences in the military and in battle, Alexander's life from a man who had planned to abdicate to the man who overthrew Napoleon Bonaparte, the perils of war, and the perils of power. Certainly the fact that Nadya is female comes up throughout the book, but there is minimal focus on the ways being female affected her ability to function in the military, other than that everyone was always surprised by how young she looked because, of course, she didn't have facial hair. 
Nadya in uniform as Alexander Durov
  • Lafferty may have stuck a bit too closely to Durova's memoirs at times during Nadya's portions of the book. Those parts felt at times weighted down by excessive details. Which is not to say that most of the detail wasn't well worth including - as much as we may feel we have an understanding of what it would take to move an army, we really can't imagine what it must have been like to try to move hundreds of thousands of men and horses, particularly into enemy territory. 
Tsar Alexander I
  • I wish there had been a map (or maps) included. And maybe even a list of characters. It's a long book and there are a lot of names to remember; if one was reading at a more leisurely pace, it would be easy to forget them all. Besides, I do love me some maps and lists of characters!
  • Also? I do like me some palace intrigue and this book has plenty of that - assassination, infidelities, back stabbings, paranoia. Good stuff.
  • I liked the way Lafferty pulled the two story lines together and especially liked the way tied the ending of the book back to the prologue. Both Nadya (Alexander) and Alexander were interesting characters who led interesting lives and Lafferty does an admirable job of exploring the many facets of both.
Thanks of the ladies of TLC Book Tours for including me in this tour. For other opinions, check out the full tour.

Linda Lafferty was a teacher for nearly three decades, in schools from Madrid, Spain, to Aspen, Colorado. She completed her PhD in bilingual special education and worked in that field; she also taught English as a second language and bilingual American history. Linda is the author of four previous novels—The Bloodletter’s Daughter, The Drowning Guard, House of Bathory, and The Shepherdess of Siena—all of which have been translated into several languages. The Drowning Guard won the Colorado Book Award for Historical Fiction. She lives in Colorado with her husband.


  1. This sounds fascinating! I've read quite a bit about Russian history and am fascinated by all the upheaval that accompanies it. This sounds like an interesting look into an unknown bit of history even if it does have the occasional flaw. I'm adding this to my TBR!

  2. I love Russian history so I'm surprised that I've never heard of Nadya's story before. I definitely need to read this one!

    Thanks for being a part of the tour.

  3. I read another review of this earlier today that was pretty negative about it. It certainly sounds like an interesting story. I am fascinated by Catherine the Great as well, and so have been considering this one, even though the focus isn't on her. I am glad you liked it, Lisa.