“At the start of war, on June 22, 1941, the day Alexander met Tatiana, there were three million civilians in Leningrad. When the Germans blockaded the city on September 8, 1941, there were two and a half million civilians in Leningrad. In the spring of 1942 a million people remained.”
This is a historical romance that takes place during World War II in Leningrad, Russia, and even though the characters are fictional, the events are very, very real. I’m not going to lie; this was a really hard book to read. I was crying, or at least tearing up, throughout most of it and I’m eternally grateful that I had Paloma to buddy read this with me, because I read most of this book with a very heavy heart.
The Bronze Horseman starts out with our main protagonist, Tatiana, and her family living in Communist Russia and first hearing the declaration of war. Her family, who lives in a two bedroom communal living space, gives her the task of collecting some food while they are trying to ensure her twin brother’s safety. While Tatiana is out and trying to actually find some food, she meets a soldier who will forever change her and her family’s life. And honestly, the beautiful, yet frustrating, story unweaves from there.
This book is one of the most atmospheric books I’ve ever read, too. Sometimes I was so enthralled and happy to see all the beautiful places that Tatiana and Alexander would go. Other times I felt cold, I felt hungry, and I felt so very sad. I quickly and wholeheartedly began to love Tatiana, though, and I still want to protect her at all costs.
This book is not an easy book to read, I won’t lie. It’s about loss, a whole lot of loss, and deception and the price that people are willing to pay to survive a war. (Trigger Warnings: abuse (physical, verbal, emotional), grey area consent, and talk of suicide.) Yet, there are also a lot of good messages about the power of love and hope and perseverance in the face of any and everything trying to kill you. This book is about getting up when you don’t think you can. This book is about sacrificing for someone who can’t. This book is about how loving someone isn’t always the easiest thing to do, but sometimes it’s the only thing you can do. But, again, this book is heavy and I totally understand it not being for everyone.
This book also does feature a pretty unpopular trope, which is commonly known as “the other woman” trope. Basically, the male love interest in this book does have sex with another woman throughout. In my opinion, it’s as tastefully done as it can be, while also giving the reader a lot of angst that makes the book unable to be put down, but I completely understand how this would be a major turn off for many readers, therefore I think it’s very important to note. Also, the other woman is extremely close to the main female protagonist, so it feels extra bad.
This being said, Tatiana is everything and needs to be protected at all costs and Alexander can go jump off a cliff for a lot of this book. Again, I love angst and it helped that the other woman was incredibly dislikeable throughout the majority of this book, too.
“I told her it wasn’t a good idea to fall in love with a soldier. All they do is break your heart.”
I’m also not going to say that Tatiana and Alexander’s relationship isn’t toxic, because it is. Alexander doesn’t make the best choices along the way. Yet, I will also say that this book has a WWII setting, where cities are toppling and people are dying all around them. I will never defend how Alexander handles his relationships, regardless of what Tatiana asks of him, but I guess I’m just really going to focus on this being fiction and not real life. Just like when I rate and review erotica, I’ll always say that the relationships, despite how sexy and hot they are, aren’t the most healthy of relationships. Well, the same thing can be said about The Bronze Horseman, and all the negative reviews surrounding their relationship are completely valid.
I will also be the first to say that Alexander and Tatiana have an uneven power balance. First, he’s older than her by five-ish years, which normally isn’t that big of a deal, but Tatiana is only seventeen and has literally no experience with men, where Alexander is open about his promiscuities from his past. Yet, more importantly, Alexander is a high up ranking officer in Tatiana’s city’s military. He is literally there to save them, obviously that is going to make it increasingly difficult for Tatiana, a younger, inexperienced, poor girl, who is treated horribly at home, to say no to him. On top of the fact that Tatiana goes from an unhealthy relationship with her entire family, to an unhealthy relationship with Alexander.
Tatiana and Alexander’s relationship is all about love, but it’s not all about romance. My friend Gelisvb and I were talking about this book and Tatiana and Alexander’s relationship and she said, “Love makes you renounce things you love and makes you who you are. Love has a terrible price. A price that is too high.” and that is so true of this tale. Tatiana pays a huge price to love Alexander, but that price also saves her very own life. Plus, it feels authentic and realistic and there is so much beauty in that.
Tatiana survives with only love and hope and perseverance to keep her alive. She survives against all odds, and this book beautifully portrays that. For everything negative I can say about Alexander, I will say a million things positive about Tatiana. Just go into their love story knowing it’s not perfect, but that Tatiana will continue to amaze you every step of the way.
Paullina Simons is truly a master storyteller. Her words are perfect, and she has created two imperfect, but real, characters that have completely mesmerized me. I was so immersed in this book, this world, and even this heartache. Then I read her family’s personal story in the afterward for this novel, and I felt so much for her. Seriously, what an amazing and talent strong woman. I feel so blessed to have had read her beautiful story, that I will never forget.
“When Tatiana looked up from her ice cream, she saw a soldier staring at her from across the street.”
I don’t read many historically set books, fiction or nonfiction, and I definitely haven’t read that many books surrounding WWII, but one of the most impactful and powerful books I’ve ever read in my entire life is All But My Life: A Memoir by Gerda Weissmann Klein. It was required reading in school, and then she actually came to my school and we were able to meet and talk with her for a bit. She was every inspirational word I know, and I’ve never put on a pair of warm winter boots and not thought of her. The Bronze Horseman is nothing like Gerda’s real life journey, but reading some of the scenes in this book flooded my senses with memories and thoughts of Gerda. And if you liked the historical WWII aspects of The Bronze Horseman, but didn’t care much for the romance, and would like to read a heartbreaking firsthand account of someone from Poland’s real life journey through WWII, please give All But My Life: A Memoir a try.
Finally, I read this book slowly, while savoring everything! This book is hailed as many of my friend’s favorite of all time, so I wanted to write a review that did this tale justice. I decided to break down each part of this story with my thoughts and feelings. This part of the review is going to be filled with spoilers! Please do not continue if you haven’t read this book and/or do not want to be completely spoiled!
➽ PART I: The Lucent Dusk, The Field of Mars, Uncharted Tides, Smoke and Thunder, Impaled in Space
This part, for me, was the “protect Tatiana at all costs” part. Yes, I was completely freaking out that she wasn’t taking the declaration of war seriously, and that she was just sitting at home reading instead of getting the food her family asked her to get, but that was before I realized what assholes her entire family were. That ice cream cone she chose to get, while ignoring the severity of the situation, ended up saving her life. Please, my heart.
I really loved Alexander right off the bat, even though my feelings did change throughout this part. I even felt bad for Dasha, Tatiana’s sister, at first, because it’s not like she knew what was going on. Meanwhile, Alexander did know he was seeing someone, so like, that’s all on him. And Dasha added so much angst to the story, even though Alexander, no matter what seventeen- year- old Tatiana said, should have just ended his relationship with her. Also, every time Tatiana had to go on the roof, my heart broke and my hate for Alexander grew and grew.
Tatiana’s loyalty to her sister and her shitty family was so admirable. Even though she constantly ripped out my heart, I loved how she always somehow ended up being so selfless. She made choices at seventeen that would be difficult for me to make in my late twenties. Seriously, I love Tatiana completely.
I was constantly hoping and praying that Tatiana would just leave with her grandparents. I knew it wouldn’t fit in the story, but I was seriously wishing. The child abuse, both verbal and physical was heartbreaking to read. I also knew Pasha was a dead man as soon as their family sent him away. I held so much pain for Tatiana with all the horrible things her family would say about her. I completely lost my mind when she went searching for her twin brother.
Alexander saving Tatiana was so beautiful. Again, I still overall dislike him in this part, but that rescue mission was so damn romantic, especially when boys nowadays can’t even text back. This man got a squad together, entered a war zone, and dug through buried bodies to find Tatiana. Like, I can’t think of a more romantic thing I’ve read, honestly. And that kiss, good Lord, that kiss.
But to juxtapose it, Dimitri is the worst and I still don’t even understand why Alexander wouldn’t deal with him accordingly, but instead kept bringing him around Tatiana. I understand that he knew of Alexander’s American past, and that his family were considered Soviet Union traitors, but, like, he knew Dimitri had terrible intentions with the supposed girl he loves more than anything.
➽ PART II: Winter’s Fierce Embrace, Beset and Besieged, Night Sank Down, Peter’s Darkened City, Fortress Pieces, Across That Formidable Sea
This part, for me, was the “I’ll never complain about cold and/or hunger again in my life” part. Like, this part had to be one of the saddest things I’ve ever read in my entire life. My heart and soul wasn’t prepared for that much death.
The grandfather that left made me sorry, Anton made me mournful, the grandmother that was there made me sad, the cousin made me heartsick, the mother made me weep, Dasha broke me. For all the shit I talked about her constantly, it broke me. I also felt like she just gave up her will to live after finding out that Alexander probably loves Tatiana, and then that information just broke me more. And Tatiana giving her the pills, the bread, and even her own breath at the make shift military hospital? Oh, that really, really, really broke me. When Tatiana told Dasha, “I love you more” I just felt my heart shatter.
This part made me so sorrowful, and so very thankful that I was able to be born in America, so thankful that my family was born in America, and so thankful that my ancestors were able to make it to America. I have so many blessings and privileges just because of where I was born, and even though this book is fiction, their situation in Leningrad was so very real. Any character from this book could have been my great grandparent(s) and their death could have made my existence not possible. This part of The Bronze Horseman is heartbreaking, but so impactful.
➽ PART III: Lazarevo, Scenting Spring, Desolate Waves
This part, for me, was the “oh my gosh, they are having sex again” part. This part was so steamy and so romantic, for the most part. Again, Alexander said and did a few questionable and problematic things, but besides that handful of things this part was so absolutely delightful to read about. And that damn white dress with the red roses is going to haunt my dreams, I swear. And I’m a firm believer that more couples need to invest in a potato counter now.
I loved the little fishing village that Tatiana eventually made it to, even though I wish both of her grandparents could have been alive to see her make it to them. I didn’t like how Tatiana is treated like the maid for the woman that she helps, but it makes complete sense coming from her family and the abusive behavior that Tatiana has known her whole life. Mostly, I just loved that Tatiana wasn’t alone and that she proved time and time again that she was strong enough to survive.
I also loved that Tatiana and Alexander got married, but I felt a little weirded out about the rings being made from Dasha’s teeth. Yet, I do think there is some very important symbolism there. And most importantly, I loved their little love shack of a cabin. I didn’t want to leave this part of the book, because I knew that part III was lulling me into a false sense of security.
➽ PART IV: In Live Defiance, Worn Out with Terror and Misgiving, A Window to the West, In Storied Battles, In the Moonlight’s Pallid Glamour
This part, for me, was the “please just fucking kill Dimitri already” part. Like, how much more of an asshole does he have to prove he is? I mean, it’s war time in the 40’s; kill him. I honestly can’t believe he ruined everything, and even his death didn’t bring me satisfaction.
On the positive, Alexander really stepped up at the end of this and truly acted like the hero the book claimed him to be from the get go. I am just over here theory-crafting how in the hell is Tatiana going to be reunited with him in book two, Tatiana and Alexander! I mean, it would have ripped my heart out, but this book actually has a pretty decent ending on its own. Heartbreaking, but I actually did feel full closure while crying my eyes out.
“Some words were like that. Whole lives attached to them. Ghosts and lives and ecstasy and sorrow.”
(A breathtaking WIP by Stephanie! Please go check out her Instagram and BookTube. She is so talented that I actually become speechless looking at her art. I honestly picture Alexander, Rhysand, and so many more the way I do because of her talent.)
This entire book just makes me exhausted. I was on such an emotional roller coaster while reading this, and I’m not sure if I would have even been able to make it without Paloma. This book literally made me feel pure bliss and then pure agony just by turning the page. I was all over the place reading this, but I honestly loved most every moment.
This book truly transported me, and touched me in ways I can’t explain unless you’ve read this beautiful story, too. This is truly an unforgettable book, and I cannot wait to start Tatiana and Alexander and to see if it can hold up to everything The Bronze Horseman was. The Bronze Horseman was easily not only one of the best book I’ve read in 2017, but it is one of the best books I’ve read in my entire life.
“Good-bye, my moonsong and my breath, my white nights and golden days, my fresh water and my fire. Good-bye, and may you find a better life, find comfort again and your breathless smile, and when your beloved face lights up once more at the Western sunrise, be sure what I felt for you was not in vain. Good-bye, and have faith, my Tatiana”