Nikolai and his brother deserted. They hid their uniforms and papers on two dead men and ran for it. Alek died of his wounds on the way, but Nikolai pushes on. The first night after he returns, Nikolai is surprised to find the emaciated figure of Galina hiding in his house. Galina's sanity is none too stable, but she tells him that everyone was taken by Koschei. Her husband's remains are in the woods. After Galina shows Nikolai what happened to Sasha, she drowns herself in the lake, so that she "can join the others."
Koschei is a figure from Russian folklore and, at first, Nikolai can't trust anything Galina said. The next day, he finds two women who have been hunting Koschei. The Chekist who calls himself Koschei the Deathless killed Tanya's husband, son, and father. She and Lyudmila have been hunting him for over a month, following his trail of dead men with red stars branded into their skin. At first, the trio split up, Tanya and Lyudmila head for the nearest town seeking news. Nikolai follows the trail signs in the woods. Eventually, they meet up again outside of Dolinsk and join forces. Their quest leads to an explosive and tense standoff with Koschei.
As Nikolai travels north after the man who took his family, more details are revealed about his past. We learn what made him run from his post. He sees the signs of the Bolsheviks and the Black, Blue, and Green armies everywhere.The country is tearing itself apart. No one trusts each other. At one point, a character thanks Nikolai just for not harming him. Nikolai has lost his revolutionary fervor and questions the bloody cost. What could be worth the Terror?
Earlier this year, I read Smith's The Child Thief. The Child Thief was a good book, but could have used editing to cut out unnecessary repetition. Red Winter is much more tightly written, much subtler. Characters race across the landscape, hunting each other. Impossible questions are pondered. And everyone has to find a way to live with what they've done.
I received a free copy of this ebook from Edelweiss, in exchange for a fair review. It will be released 18 July 2014.