Book Review: Purple Hearts by Michael Grant

35068453New York Times bestselling author Michael Grant unleashes the gritty and powerful conclusion to the Front Line series and evokes the brutal truth of World War II: War is hell. An epic tale of historical reimagining, perfect for fans of Code Name Verity and Salt to the Sea.

Courage, sacrifice, and fear have lead Rio, Frangie, and Rainy through front-line battles in North Africa and Sicily, and their missions are not over. These soldiers and thousands of Allies must fight their deadliest battle yet—for their country and their lives—as they descend into the freezing water and onto the treacherous sands of Omaha Beach. It is June 6, 1944. D-Day has arrived.

No longer naive recruits, these soldier girls are now Silver Star recipients and battle-hardened. Others look to them for guidance and confidence, but this is a war that will leave sixty million dead. Flesh will turn to charcoal. Piles will be made of torn limbs. The women must find a way to lead while holding on to their own last shreds of belief in humanity.

If you didn’t know, I love this series. I have used the term criminally underhyped several times. So, naturally, there were a lot of things that I wanted to see from the final book. A lot of things that I wanted wrapped up, a lot of things I was excited to see. For the most part, I felt that Purple Hearts delivered, even if I wanted a little more from the resolution of one character’s story.

I’ll just get my main qualms out of the way. The first is something that I understand, but, waaaah, I want it different. These books jump from place to place, and I get it. World War Two was loooooooong, and my dream version of these books would be a thousand pages long each. But do you know what? I want to see everything! I want more quiet downtime with the characters! I want more of them on leave! I want more! (I guess that’s kind of a good thing, though?) (Please make me a Soldier Girls television show, and have it last ten seasons.)

The second was about the way a romantic subplot ended. It was the one I was most invested in, and while my ship did not sink, we did not get to see it sail. We were told that it sailed. But we did not see it sail. (Do you get what I’m saying?) (This is why I need these books to be a thousand pages long.)

The strongest thing about these book is and always has been the camaraderie between the soldiers. Michael Grant is great at showing how relationships forged in fire are so much stronger than others. My favourite example of this had to be the friendship between Luther Geer and Hansu Pang. It was explored a little more this book and, honestly, I’d take an entire spinoff just about them. There’s a sort of Legolas/Gimli vibe. And, honestly, you could write an ordinary historical fiction book (not alternate history) about a bigoted redneck and a Japanese-American becoming friends in World War Two. Has anyone heard of one? I know that’s really specific, but I just really want to read that hypothetical book now.

Another thing I loved was how we got to briefly see from the perspectives of the new soldiers joining Rio’s platoon. In a lot of war stories, you’re told about, oh, the green soldiers don’t last long, but I think this was a really effective way of impressing on the reader that these are not just red shirts that are dying. They’re people with families and friends and hopes and dreams. (And some of them survive, which is also nice.) It was also interesting to get that outsider’s perspective on these characters we’ve known since almost the start of the war. (I love how terrified everyone is of Rio.) (Well, the American start of the war. Couldn’t have showed up earlier, eh?)

Also, Canadians and Dieppe were mentioned. This is such a little thing, but I find in a lot of WW2 stories written by Americans, they never acknowledge that, y’know, other countries fought with them. Maybe a British person will show up, but you never hear about Australians or Canadians or Indians or Free French… (And I’m sure there are more, because the British Empire/Commonwealth was frikkin huge.) It’s a little thing, but it always takes me out of the story, so it’s nice to see those shout outs.

Also, the end of the war is coming here. The first two books dealt with less well-known events, but in Purple Hearts, everyone knows what we’re in for. There’s a lot of difficult subject matter in here, especially once the troops being marching into what was Nazi territory, and this could have been done so badly. But I think that it was done respectfully and incredibly powerfully.

Finally, let’s talk about our soldier girls themselves. Rio, Rainy, and Frangie. (Their parents had unique tastes.) They’ve changed so much since book one and I just want to give them all hugs. I love them. I love their hardened veteran hearts and their callused soldier hands and their thousand-yard stares. You don’t even notice it happening, those girls from back home disappearing, but you get to a certain point and they’re gone. Ahh, it’s done so well. There is no glorifying of soldiers here. There is no lionizing. These are women, brave women, but human women. *chef kiss* So good.

If you have not checked out this series, get off your butt and do it. It does so much right, and the books are so compelling. It reads like real history, the characters are amazing, and if a million people don’t read it, how else am I going to get my 10-season HBO series? As a finale, there are a few more things that I would have liked from Purple Hearts, but they’re small. Overall, it’s an excellent way to end these stories. Just the right amount of hope, just the right amount of heartbreak, just the right amount of joy, just the right amount of bittersweetness. Now go read this series.

Verdict: buy it

Have you found a World War Two book specifically about a redneck and a Japanese-American becoming besties? How terrified would you be if you were a soldier? (Spoiler: not more terrified than me.) And what are your favourite alternate history books?

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