Thursday, 29 November 2018

Book Review: The Winter Soldier (Historical Fiction)

                                      The Winter Soldier
                                          Daniel Mason

Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia 
Publication Date: 25th September 2018
RRP: $29.99
Pages: 352
Format Read: Trade Paperback
Source: Copy courtesy of the publisher

From the bestselling author of The Piano Tuner, comes Daniel Mason's The Winter Soldier, a story of love and medicine through the devastation of the First World War.

Vienna, 1914. Lucius is a twenty-two-year-old medical student when World War One explodes across Europe. Enraptured by romantic tales of battlefield surgery, he enlists, expecting a position at a well-organized field hospital. But when he arrives, at a commandeered church tucked away high in a remote valley of the Carpathian Mountains, he finds a freezing outpost ravaged by typhus. The other doctors have fled, and only a single, mysterious nurse named Sister Margarete remains.
But Lucius has never lifted a surgeon’s scalpel. And as the war rages across the winter landscape, he finds himself falling in love with the woman from whom he must learn a brutal, makeshift medicine. Then one day, an unconscious soldier is brought in from the snow, his uniform stuffed with strange drawings. He seems beyond rescue, until Lucius makes a fateful decision that will change the lives of doctor, patient and nurse forever.

From the gilded ballrooms of Imperial Vienna to the frozen forests of the Eastern Front; from hardscrabble operating rooms to battlefields thundering with Cossack cavalry, The Winter Soldier is the story of war and medicine, of family, of finding love in the sweeping tides of history, and, finally, of the mistakes we make, and the precious opportunities to atone.

This is my favourite type of Historical Fiction. Stories that follow ordinary people caught up in extraordinary events during the war. Be they doctors, soldiers, nurses or civilians, everyone has a story that needs telling.

This story follows Lucius Krzelewski, from a well-off Austrian family, through his years of medical training. Mason highlights how training during this time was not hands on but merely observation only. When the war breaks out the students are fast tracked to doctor status and sent straight to remote makeshift hospitals treating an endless run of wounded soldiers. Lucius is sent a converted church in a remote area of Northern Hungary.

The majority of the story takes place during Lucius’ time at the makeshift hospital in Lemnowice, Hungary and how the doctor, nurse and orderlies deal with the terrible wounds, rats , plague, soldiers with shell-shock, typhus, louse, lack of food and the freezing conditions. As the small group of medical staff bond we also get to learn about their lives, their triumphs and their failures. With one particular failure having far-reaching effects and will linger with Lucius long after he leaves the hospital.

There is much to this novel with mentions of early medical practices and experimental medical procedures, the food shortages and the black market. The social aftermath of the war is highlighted by a greater divide between the haves and have-nots and the need for arranged marriages.

The story is sombre and atmospheric, quite often harsh and brutal. There are tender moments dispersed throughout with an underlying story of love and loss.

The ending was bittersweet. A twist I certainly didn’t see coming. 

Content: War related injuries

My Rating   5/5              🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟 

This is my Review of the Month for the review collection on

Photo courtesy of Pan Macmillan
Daniel Mason is a physician and author of the novels The Piano Tuner and A Far Country. His work has been translated into twenty-eight languages, and adapted for opera and theatre.
A recipient of a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, he is currently a Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University, where he teaches courses in the humanities and medicine. He lives in the Bay Area with his family. The Winter Soldier is his third novel. 

You can read more about the author and his books on his website: