Purple Hearts by Michael Grant

The Blurb On The Back:

Could women fight?

Stupid question.  Women don’t stop being women, and men don’t stop being men.  We become an entirely new creature: the combat soldier. And we are none of us, men or women, the people we started out as.

War is hell.

1944.  It feels like the war will never end.  Rio, Frangie and Rainy have all received accolades, been “heroes”, earned promotion. They’ve all done “enough” to allow them to leave this nightmare and go home.  But the war hasn’t finished with them yet …  

You can order PURPLE HEARTS by Michael Grant from Amazon USA, Amazon UK, or Waterstone’s.  I earn commission on any purchases made through these links.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

It’s June 1944.  Sergeants Rio Richlin and Frangie Marr are in Britain, preparing for the invasion of France that everyone – including the Nazis – knows is coming, while Second Lieutenant Rainy Schulterman is in France on a mission to join up with the maquis resistance and check on German troop movements.

D Day marks the last phase of the war but even after everything that Rio, Frangie and Rainy have been through, they find there’s still a lot of danger and darkness to be overcome …

The conclusion to Michael Grant’s AU World War II YA historical trilogy is an action-packed thrill ride that honours the sacrifice of those who fought while making interesting observations about women in combat, highlighting the prejudice experienced by African Americans and providing a moving postscript that made me emotional, but the final quarter is too rushed and I wanted to know more about some of the characters’ post war choices.

As with the earlier books, Grant does a great job of splitting his narrative between Frangie, Rio and Rainy while also introducing new characters (who serve to highlight the danger and insanity of the war) and revealing the identity of the mysterious narrator who is typing up these memories from a military hospital (although I had guessed this quite early on).

The D Day landings are written incredibly well – Grant does an amazing job of showing the fear of those waiting to land on the beaches and the horror and the violence of what was waiting for them there. He also doesn’t shy from showing the stupidity of some of the tactical decisions (notably for the tank crews who have a truly horrifying experience) and how some soldiers simply couldn’t cope with what they were going through.

Equally good are the scenes showing Rainy and the French resistance, which has some gut-punching moments (notably a scene involving a collaborator) and draws on a real Nazi war atrocity to stomach churning effect.  I was impressed by the fact that Grant shows how it wasn’t just the Nazis though who behaved badly – highlighting some of the revenge actions taken by American troops, including those who found the concentration camps.  This is not done to denigrate or disgrace the soldiers – it’s to show their humanity and how that can make people flawed.

My main issue was that the book is so fast-paced that events in the final quarter felt very rushed.  This is especially the case in the scenes in Hürtgen Forest and Clerveaux where I found the time jumps to be too fast and as a result took away from some of the drama and peril.  I was also a little frustrated by the final time jump, which shows what happened to the women after the war – this is particularly the case in the Rio/Strand/Jack love triangle where I was left wondering about Rio’s choices given events that took place earlier in the book.  That said, I did find these postscripts to be very moving, which is testimony to the good job that Grant did in making me care about these women.

I would question Grant’s hope that had women served in the War, the women’s rights movement may have made more progress earlier not least because it didn’t seem to help the African American civil rights’ movement make fast progress, but I do admire his optimism and the way in which he keeps his characters as believable women during the book.

All in all, having started this trilogy querying what the use was of having an AU postulating women serving in World War II, I finished it being disappointed that there weren’t more books and I would dearly love to see a Rio and Rainy spin-off series showing their post war careers. I think the device does force you to reappraise the war and what happened to the people who fought in it and to reconsider your attitudes towards women and for that reason, I would urge people to check it out.

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