Book Review: The Girl Who Fought Napoleon by Linda Lefferty

The Girl Who Fought Napoleon: A Novel of the Russian Empire by Linda Lafferty

This wonderful historical novel follows the tale of Nadezhda Dorova,  born in the Ukraine in 1783, literally as part of the Russian Calvary. Nadezhda’s father is a Russian Cavalry officer, and his Ukrainian wife delivers his child while the calvary is on the march. Nadezhda grows up to the sound and smell of horses, the clash of steel sabers and the simple camaraderie of military life. 

Nadezhda is not beautiful; her features changed by a bout of smallpox when she was a child, but she is striking. Nadezhda seeks nothing more or less than freedom to be her own person. Her mother, attempting to tame her eldest daughter’s wild ways, seeks to secure an advantageous marriage with  merchant in Ukraine. Nadezhda fights back the only way she feels she can: she dresses up as a Cossack Warrior, steals her favorite horse and a saber, and goes out to join the Russian army.

Once in the army, everything doesn’t necessarily go smoothly. Nadezhda’s disguise is not foolproof, and even as active a woman as she was, the physical exertion of being a lancer in Russia’s Army is intense. But Nadezhda works hard, her rise through the Russian ranks determined not by any natural or unusual skill, but by grim determination. 

What makes this story even more compelling is that this is not fiction; this is a novelized life of a real woman who fought in Russia’s Army in the early part of the nineteenth century against the armies of Napoleon. The author has done a fabulous job of taking the memoirs of Nadezhda Durova and making them into an accessible novel. The plot weaves between Nadezhda’s story and that of Tsar Alexander I with richly realized detail and much personal sympathy. Most of the book is taken straight from Nadezhda’s memoirs (have I mentioned how much I love a book with sources?). Even the unexpected twist towards the end of the book is historically accurate.

In all, the Lafferty has written a historical epic accessible to even the non history reader. Nadezhda’s life as a female Russian army soldier, won through hard work and grit is a story for the ages. History buffs and those seeking a book with a strong female character will greatly enjoy The Girl Who Fought Napoleon.

 An advance ebook was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The Girl Who Fought Napoleon will be available for purchase on September 20th, 2016.


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