Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Review: Beautiful Assassin by Michael C. White

Imagine, a woman in a tree, a silly, foolish young woman holding a gun and preparing to kill a man she does not even know. [excerpt from Beautiful Assassin]

Beautiful Assassin
by Michael C. White
William Morrow, 2010
Fiction; 464 pgs

For all the books I have read over the years set around or during World War II, I have yet to explore every facet of it. The Soviet Union's involvement is one such area I am still relatively new to. And so, when the opportunity arose to read and review Michael C. White's novel, Beautiful Assassin, I was quick to volunteer. The novel opens with an American journalist on her way to meet who she believes is the namesake of the novel, a woman she has long been searching for. The two women talk long into the night as Tat'yana tells the story of her life all those years ago.

Tat'yana was once a Soviet Hero, having killed over 300 soldiers. She had come to the United States as a guest of Eleanor Roosevelt, but under the watchful eye of the Soviets who dictated just about every word she spoke and every move she made. She had been told her purpose was to draw support from the Americans and to encourage the U.S. to become more active in the war, to fight the Germans alongside the Soviets. Only, she soon learned that she was to also glean as much information as she could from her new friends. Tat'yana did not want to be a spy as it went against her very nature. She was loyal to her country, but she also knew the faults of her government. She was put in a difficult situation, having to choose between her country and a new one.

Tat'yana is not someone anyone would expect to become a soldier. She was an academic, a poet. When tragedy befell her family, however, she was desperate and full of rage. The only thing she wanted to do wass strike out at the enemy. Her skills in marksmanship proved an asset in the war.

Although women fought alongside men in the Soviet Union, Tat'yana and other female soldiers did not have it easy. There were those who did not believe a woman's place should be on the battlefield and they made life difficult. As Tat'yana tried to prove herself in a man's world, she quickly learned that it would be an ongoing battle. While others sought to keep her in her place, Eleanor Roosevelt had other ideas. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt instantly takes a liking to Tat'yana, a capable, strong woman, as does Tat'yana to Mrs. Roosevelt.

There was so much I liked about this book. Tat'yana is an interesting character who evolves as a person over the course of the novel. Because Tat'yana is telling her story in hindsight, she has insight into the events that took place all those years ago, and so she comes at it from a place of maturity we might not have seen from her younger self. Tat'yana is by no means perfect. She is strong and yet vulnerable. She did not always make the best or even the most heroic choices.

At 464 pages, this novel has a lot packed into it; it is at once a war story, a political thriller, and a historical novel with a touch of romance. Although I enjoyed nearly every aspect of the novel, my favorite time was spent when Tat'yana was in the Soviet Union. I felt like I got to know Tat'yana best during that time as well as her family, including her husband and her relationship with him.

Once Tat'yana arrived in the United States, I felt as if the plot began to overshadow the characters. I found the later romance portion of the novel difficult to buy into if only because Captain Taylor was not as well-developed a character as I would have liked. He is charming and mysterious, and while I could understand the attraction between Tat'yana and him, I never felt like I got to know him as well as I did her character. I never lost my fascination and interest in the story and of Tat'yana, however, and I was anxious to see how it all turned out in the end.

Beautiful Assassin was a satisfying read overall. I enjoyed the time I spent with Tat'yana and look forward to exploring the author's other novels.

Rating: * (Good +)

For more information about the author and his books, visit his website.

Source: Received book through BookBrowse First Impressions Program.

© 2010, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved.If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.


  1. Like you, I am always looking for the different angle on WWII. BTW, Nymeth has a great review today on a unique one...go check it out! This sounds fascinating, as you don't hear of female assassins (except in the movies).

  2. Like you, I am always looking for the different angle on WWII. BTW, Nymeth has a great review today on a unique one...go check it out! This sounds fascinating, as you don't hear of female assassins (except in the movies).

  3. Now this is a book that i would not have considered reading until I read your positive and enthusiastic review. Glad u liked this one Wendy.

  4. I've always enjoyed movies set around WWII but I don't think I've ever read any books set around then. I wonder if Tat'yana was based on Tanya Baramzina?

  5. Wow, that sounds like quite a story. I wonder if any of it's based on fact.

  6. Sandy - One of the draws of this book for me definitely was because it featured a female assassin/sniper. I'll have to stop by Nymeth's blog--thanks for the head's up!

    Diane - I wasn't sure what to expect going into this one, whehter it would be more historical fiction or more thriller. It definitely has elements of both, but I'd say it is more historical fiction. If that makes sense.

    Jen & Kathy - The author did do a lot of research for the novel and while he changed some events around for the sake of the story, he tried to stay true to history. I believe he does mention Tanya Baramzina in his notes about the book. It's been awhile since I read the book and I don't have it with me (I'm not at home)--otherwise I'd be able to say for sure.

  7. I,too, have read a lot about WWII, but have really only touched on the Russian side of it. It sounds like this is a book that I should read. The story sounds very interesting and complex, and I am glad that you liked it. I will be looking for this book! Thanks!

  8. I like novels set during this time period. Like you, I know next to nothing about the Russian side of things. This one sounds like a good read with characters I can care about and it would give me the opportunity to learn a bit more about the history.

  9. I don't know much about the Russian involvement in the war, either, except for that one movie I think about Leningrad. Or Stalingrad. That, er, I don't even remember the name of.

    I hate when romance is artificially introduced into stories! SIGH.

  10. I hadn't heard of this book before but like Sandy said, cool angle with the female assassin. I'll have to bring this one up with my mystery group!

  11. It seems to be a great read from what you write. Soviets' involvement in WWII was very important and influential especially for other Eastern European countries and sadly we don't get to read more books about it. I'd love to read this one.

  12. Heather (Zibilee) - It was definitely written from an interesting perspective. I need to read more about the Soviet Union during the war.

    Kathleen - It's one of my favorite time periods to read about. I really grew to like Tat'yana and a few of the other characters.

    Aarti - Haha! I'm not sure I saw the movie you're referring to. I feel like I should have known more then I did about that part of the war. It just hasn't been my focus. I do plan to read more in that area now though.

    Iliana - I haven't seen much mention of the book, now that I think about it. Beautiful Assassin definitely lends itself well to discussion, I think, so it'd be a good choice for a book club.

    Lily - My appetite for learning more about the Soviet Union and WWII definitely has been heightened. I realized just how little I know by reading this book and it's kind of embarassing. I hope you will like this one if you do read it.

  13. You know me and my love for WWII books! Thanks for bringing this one to my attention. I haven't read much about the Soviet Union's involvement either, so I'll definitely keep this one in mind.

    I've linked to your review on the Book Reviews: WWII page on War Through the Generations.

    Diary of an Eccentric

  14. As others have said, definitely an interesting angle.
    Sounds like a good story!

  15. Another one to add to my wish list. Thanks for the great review, Wendy. I'm reading a lot books with such settings and generally about the military. I definitely want to read this as well.

  16. Anna - Thanks for the link, Anna. I feel like I've continued on with the WWII challenge this year without even trying. :-)

    Carla - It was interesting--and different. I'm glad I had the chance to read this one.

    Alice - You're so kind, Alice. I especially liked being in battle with Tat'yana. It was from such an interesting perspective, especially during WWII.


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