Maid of Baikal
In a unique twist, Maid of Baikal by Preston Fleming takes what seems like a standard historical fiction novel and twists it into a fascinating What if experiment.
Zhanna Dorokhina lives a quiet life near Lake Baikal in Siberia. The Russian Civil War breaks out soon after her 18th birthday. For most of her life, Zhanna has heard voices of saints and archangels driving her to live a virtuous life. Eventually, those same voices begin whispering of Russia’s doom, lest she intervene. Putting her faith in God and the voices, Zhanna doggedly journeys to the front lines to usher Russia to victory, at any cost. Along the way, she befriends an American solider operating undercover. As Zhanna throws caution to the wind and dives headlong into the fray, the American struggles with preventing an international incident and protecting this headstrong young woman.
Maid of Baikal is an incredible read that ensnares readers and pulls them deeper into Russian history as they follow Zhanna’s exploits. Fleming does a masterful job of explaining just enough to allow readers to follow along without burying them under a mountain of minutiae. Scattered footnotes provide additional context and clarification, again without allowing the narrative to dry out and sputter. Even during the quiet moments, the writing shines and begs for the pages to keep flipping.
Both Zhanna and the American solider, Ned, are incredibly well-developed. While Zhanna is the titular character, Ned slowly steals the show. He’s a spy of the subtle sort operating under deep cover to supply weapons to one side while rooting around for information. Above all else, Ned can’t actively participate in the fighting, lest he drag America into the fray. Of course, Zhanna never fades from the spotlight as the story progresses. She starts out as a determined, if slightly naïve, character, but transitions into a powerful tactician and leader.
Fleming poured an extreme amount of effort into this novel. Not only is the story well-written and the historical context sufficiently grounded, but little aspects highlight a dedicated writer. Each chapter features a unique song to listen to before reading to further pull readers in. Subtle quotes and excepts foreshadow and set the stone for each chapter, as well.
While this is definitively historical fiction, any reader should pick up Maid of Baikal. The combination of historical fact and subtle speculation lend itself beautifully to the story. Zhanna’s trials and tribulations, and Ned’s determination to save her, are universal. Highly polished and shining to a powerful glow, Maid of Baikal appeals to readers of any genre and highlights an author to watch.
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