It has to be said, the word “epic” is one which is often bandied about far too liberally by publishers and authors, particularly in regard to historical drama, and even more so when they have a military or wartime premise. But I’m not hurling superlatives when saying that Hardened Steel by Victor Gregor meets the criteria in the purest way. Furthermore, it is not just epic; it is fantastic. A real sprawling tale in the same vein as The Revenant, as its narrative almost weaves its way superbly into a battle between two determined leaders. Set in post-Great War Russia, we get to read about a time in history perhaps under-reported; I must confess, I know relatively little about the Cossacks and century-old Siberian feudal culture, in comparison to the far more heavily weighted work I’ve read about other Western and Asian armies. Victor Gregor is absolutely the writer to bring this grand palette to us, clearly knowing his subject and writing it wonderfully.
The story is a simple one, which bars no holds in its depiction of the brutality of those who claim to be Cossacks, pillaging, raping and butchering their way across the defenceless villages of Siberia, and one shaky Russian colonel who is reluctantly tasked to stop them. How much of this book is based in fact I don’t know, but it has to be said, in light of what we have all witnessed in recent years, the sheer barbarity of the marauding terrorists comes as no surprise; I dare say that Gregor’s portrayal of the invaders is as authentic as any other. So, what begins as a multi-depth study into the psyche of a personally and physically damaged Russian officer evolves, over the book’s substantial length, into a battle of wits and courage between good and evil. It becomes a mission story with horrific odds, and indeed some very clear references to the famous Spartan 300. The narrative is tremendously satisfying in every way, particularly the way Gregor brings the strands to their conclusion. This is a book for intelligent readers, who don’t need sensationalist payoffs, just decent ones. The characters are not tropes; they have many layers, good and bad, and I have to say that I found all of them well-crafted, even the most peripheral bit-players. The book is full of good surprises, exactly as it should be, for it tells a human story.
So why the half-star off in my review (except Goodreads, which does not permit this)? Well, truth be told, the book, whilst well-paced, hugely entertaining to read and articulately presented, is simply not in good shape grammatically, to such an extent that I can’t just ignore it and pretend all is well. The manuscript I was sent, I’m very sorry to say, needs a fair amount of editing and does not live up to its narrative quality. This is a real shame, because it genuinely deserves to be a 5-star book, and the amount of research and obvious hard work on the author’s part is let down quite badly by the final proof – indeed, were it not so good, I would probably have deducted a little more. But the fact remains, without hyperbole, that this book is genuinely epic, and it is excellent. I would love to see it polished up and put out there, in front of the world, to showcase its tremendous creator, for it is as good a book as I’ve read in quite some time. That said, it is currently what it is, so you’ve a choice. My suggestion, if you like historical epics, and perhaps even if you don’t, is absolutely to read it; if you’re a smart reader, you’ll love it, I assure you.
In : Book Reviews
Tags: victor-gregor russian-history military first-world-war epic drama brutal wartime mission