Captain Elliott Parrish of Her Majesty’s 17th Lancers cavalry division finds most of his assignment in the Crimea insufferable.
Rampant cholera, missing supplies, and inept planning quickly mire the promise of a decisive summer victory for the British. Facing a harrowing winter campaign, Elliott must rally disheartened men through sickness, battle and starvation.
But when he is assigned the additional task of spying on a fellow officer, the inscrutable Cornet Ilyas Kovakin, he finds himself disconcerted and fascinated by both the work and the man.
The half-Russian officer reports to none in his division. Rumors of demonic power and black magic surround him, but the truth turns out to be worse than the suspicions.
For Ilyas, his return to the Crimea is marred by the terrible mistake that cursed him with a horrifying power nearly beyond his control. His grip on his humanity is slipping away daily. Torn between a master he cannot trust and the family he must not return to, his only hope for salvation lies hidden in the long-forgotten symbols of centuries-old relics. But their meanings remain a mystery until the cheerful Captain Parrish offers assistance.
Although Ilyas fears trusting the young captain, Elliott’s company is almost irresistible.
Surrounded by deprivation, cruelty and war, both men know the closer they are drawn together, the greater the stakes. But with the balance of European power on the line, retreat is not an option.
Magic and romance set amongst the carnage and boredom of the Crimean War.
Fantastic sense of of place, which is both good and bad. Especially when the place is disease-ridden muddy fields that either swelter or are frozen. Daily life of a cavalry soldier is well documented here. Moderately pace. This is a war story with mystery and a romance in that order. A nice mix of superstition and religion woven into this Victorian period piece featuring Russian moles, lifelong soldiers and the futility of the war. It does a good job of valorizing individuals and highlighting the utter nonsense of the act.
Ilyas carries a heavy burden. Half Russian, Half English he is mistrusted by both sides, but he rides for the British. Not favoring either side, but reveling in the carnage of war he’s victorious on the front lines and behind them. Ilyas has a dangerous secret.
Elliot is drawn to Ilyas. It’s more than his mysterious good looks, but he wants to succumb to the urges plaguing him. A lifetime soldier he knows the dangers of both his profession and his obsession of Ilyas.
Their story is one of pain, suffering, and celebration. In each other, they find something more than they hoped for.
I found the stark reality and their furtive movements were successful in finding a way to have a relationship under the circumstances. The mystery and supernatural element of the story was really well done and evidenced research. I found it engaging and added intrigue to a military story that didn’t revolve around espionage. Not that it isn’t present–what kind of war would it be without spies?
There were a couple times when this definitely touched me, and while tears weren’t necessary I certainly felt the tragedy and suffering. The charge of the Light Brigade was as horrible as I imagined, like many of the military actions before it and just futile and illogical.
They broke clear of the smoke for a moment and Elliott saw several wounded, riderless horses running perfectly in formation as if still commanded by men.
In the end, a war might have a winner, but everyone loses something.
Overall, worthwhile read if one is the patient sort and can handle the less savory aspects of war.
They had learned the language of each other’s ardor, and yet each time Ilyas found himself marveling at the newness of this—this coupling without restrictions, this open, carnal honesty.
For those interested: Lord Alfred Tennyson’s “Charge of the Light Brigade”