The New York Times bestselling author of The Rose Code returns with an unforgettable World War II tale of a quiet bookworm who becomes history’s deadliest female sniper. Based on a true story.
In 1937 in the snowbound city of Kiev (now known as Kyiv), wry and bookish history student Mila Pavlichenko organizes her life around her library job and her young son–but Hitler’s invasion of Ukraine and Russia sends her on a different path. Given a rifle and sent to join the fight, Mila must forge herself from studious girl to deadly sniper–a lethal hunter of Nazis known as Lady Death. When news of her three hundredth kill makes her a national heroine, Mila finds herself torn from the bloody battlefields of the eastern front and sent to America on a goodwill tour.
Still reeling from war wounds and devastated by loss, Mila finds herself isolated and lonely in the glittering world of Washington, DC–until an unexpected friendship with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and an even more unexpected connection with a silent fellow sniper offer the possibility of happiness. But when an old enemy from Mila’s past joins forces with a deadly new foe lurking in the shadows, Lady Death finds herself battling her own demons and enemy bullets in the deadliest duel of her life.
Based on a true story, The Diamond Eye is a haunting novel of heroism born of desperation, of a mother who became a soldier, of a woman who found her place in the world and changed the course of history forever.
4,5 to 5 stars.
First I want to praise the narrator Saskia Maarleveld for delivering once more an outstanding performance. She does accents like nobody’s business and always sucks me into the story!
I listened to that book in record time, engrossed right from the start.
What I love about Kate Quinn’s books is that she will always go for less known stories of history.
After The Rose Code where she talked about Bletchley Park and the enigma machine, the Huntress where we met the Night Witches we will now follow a female Ukrainian sniper Milla Pavlichenko.
I had never heard of her before Kate’s book but her story was fascinating!
Kate, in her author’s notes, explained that she stumbled upon Milla’s story while researching for the Huntress.
Like Nina, Milla is another extraordinary woman!
It is true, reading these two stories, that we realize that Russia was the only nation allowing female soldiers in WWII. And both Nina from the Huntress and Milla from The Diamond Eye were as courageous, if not more, than many men!
Milla was pregnant at fifteen after an older surgeon seduced her at a ball. Threatened by Milla’s father, he’ll marry Milla but their marriage will soon reveal to be a huge mistake.
Separated from her husband, Milla is working hard while studying History at university and raising her son alone.
After her husband shamed her young son, she will decide that she will be the mother and the father of her son hence promising to show him how to shoot.
That’s what prompted Milla to join an elite shooting class.
When the Nazis invaded Russia, she will enroll in the army because what mother would she be if she didn’t fight for her son’s freedom?
Milla was the only female soldier in her company. And the circumstances were so dire that she didn’t even have a rifle before another soldier died in front of her.
We will follow Milla at war with her fight to become “one of the boys” and escape unwanted attention, especially from officers. She will slowly and with great effort climb the ranks and prove that she is the best sniper. She didn’t do it for glory. Her tally didn’t interest her. But she did it because she had seen so many horrors committed by the Nazis that she had a burning hatred for them. She wanted to push them out of her country. And she wanted a free country for her son!
She hadn’t asked to become that killer. All that she wanted was to finish her thesis and offer a better future to her son. It was not her fault that they invaded her country, raped the women, tortured the men. But she was determined to free her country and if it was through killing as many soldiers and officers as possible then, so be it.
She will also be tasked with training other soldiers to become snipers. But of course before training them, she had to have them obey, to earn their respect.
What followed was an intense bond with “her” men, made of total trust, loyalty and friendship. One of them, Kostia, will even become her shadow, her partner, the one who had her back.
We learn a lot about sniper tactics, how to spot the best places to shoot, how to blend in the surroundings and how to wait a long time before having a shot at your enemy.
I found Milla’s story very engrossing and I had no idea that Russian students were sent in 1942 in the US, invited alongside other international students by Eleanore Roosevelt. That’s when Milla will plead her cause and ask for the USA to send weapons and troops in Europe to help vanquish the Nazis.
I really appreciated her relationship with Eleanor Roosevelt and to have a glimpse into Eleanor’s live as well. That part happening on the American continent, in a time bubble, far from the war zone was a new and very interesting element to the story. An unknown threat with a villain lurking in the shadows added to the mounting tension.
Seeing Milla go from tragedy to tragedy, losing her men, her love and still coming back fighting again was a real testimony to her courage and bravery!
You expect in wartime stories a lot of tragedies and atrocities. But this story, like Kate Quinn’s other stories is also an ode to human resilience. It shows that through dire time, individuals rise to the occasion and through acts of valor and bravery will turn the tide and have justice and freedom prevail.
I should also add that the dedication of Kate Quinn was “ To all the writers who managed to produce a book during the COVID19 lockdown – to all the creators who managed to create art in the middle of a pandemic. It was really tough, wasn’t it?”
I can imagine how hard it was to created that story and that’s why I am still a huge fan of Kate’s books and I hope to meet her one day!
Thanks for reading!