Death Steppe: A World War II Novel by Judy Bruce

June 18th, 2015 Kimberly Review 46 Comments

18th Jun
Death Steppe: A World War II Novel by Judy Bruce
Death Steppe
by Judy Bruce
Published by: Merriam Press
Genres: Historical Fiction
Source: Author
Purchase: Amazon
Rating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

This World War II story, set in western Soviet Union during Germany’s retreat, follows the lives of a Russian war widow, a dissident, Christian, and black marketeer, as she serves as a medic on the front lines, and a disillusioned German lieutenant, a former professor and concentration camp officer, as he fights in a losing effort. After our heroine is forced into service as a navigator in a women’s air force regiment, flying plywood and canvas biplanes on harrowing night missions, she encounters the injured yet violent German when her plane crashes. Together they embark on a turbulent journey, first as enemies, later as lovers and disheartened deserters.

Death Steppe: A World War II Novel by Judy Bruce transports us to western Soviet Union as Germany tries to invade. It follows a Russian war window and a German lieutenant whose paths will eventual cross as they deal with the challenging landscape. Beautiful, brutal and steeped in faith this tale exposes both the horrors of war and the beauty of love.

I have always found novels set during this era to be fascinating even as I try to wrap my head around the atrocities. Bruce brought us two very interesting characters. She delivered a tale that shares the struggles of individuals while giving us a sense of the war itself and its impact. I appreciated her attention to detail and the way in which she brought these characters to life.

Eleana is a Russian widow, who works at the hospital as an aid, but secretly works with the black market. She reads banned American and British literature and believes in God. She finds herself assigned to a hospital near outskirt of the war, and eventually is assigned to the front-line as medic. It seems the fates are against her when she is assigned to be a Night Witch. These female pilots dropped bombs on the Germans forcing them to retreat.For most it was a death sentence flying about in these tin cans.  Eleana is strong, passionate and at times fearless. I found her to be remarkable and Bruce did a wonderful job of allowing me to connect and gain insight into what her life must have been like. Bruce’s descriptions of her transformation and internal struggles felt genuine.

Friedrich is a German professor and architect who covers up his disdain for the Third Reich by becoming a German lieutenant. He works at a concentration camp and gives us a harrowing account before he is assigned to fight with troops invading Russia. Friedrich is not as strong of a character as Eleana.  He does what he must in order to survive. One cannot help but question how we would handle the situation. Is he a coward or survivor?

The two accidentally meet and find themselves holding up on a Russian farm during Russia’s harsh winter. It was fascinating seeing these two enemies relying on each other and discovering how very different the other is from their own preconceived notions and of course, from the propaganda their leaders have fed them. A friendship forms out of necessity and soon they are confessing their sins and darkest fears. The two become lovers and eventually hatch a plan to desert and escape together. Their time on the farm felt very genuine from their distrust to their need to feel safe and loved.

Death Steppe: A World War II Novel shares a love story but do not look for happily ever after. Bruce beautifully captures the brutal landscape of war while weaving in the effects upon humanity and individuals. It was sometimes dark, sometimes beautiful, and at times incredibly suspenseful. The words flowed wonderfully allowing me to become completely immersed in their story. While the ending was awash in sadness Bruce also gave us a glimmer of hope befitting such a tale.

About Judy Bruce

Judy is the mother of two, the wife of one, and the sibling of three (formerly four). She also blog at where she rambles about favorite books and movies and personal topics–her younger sister Janet who died of brain cancer, and her autistic son Danny who takes quirky to an amazing level.

Photo of kimbacaffeinate
About Kimberly
Kimberly is a coffee loving book addict who reads and listens to fictional stories in all genres. She's a self-professed Whovian, as well as a Supernatural, and Sherlock Holmes junkie, She enjoys sharing books, tips, recipes and hosting the Sunday Post. The coffee is always on and she is ready to chat...Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

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46 Responses to “Death Steppe: A World War II Novel by Judy Bruce”

  1. Melliane

    It’s been a while since I haven’t read a book like that but I used to love them a lot. I have one at home and I should try it. I miss them. It’s always quite interesting.

    Melliane recently posted: Where by Kit Reed
  2. Katherine

    This is an interesting setting and concept. Definitely not like anything I’ve come across before. I’ll have to add this as a fall read for when I’m in the mood for something a little bit heavier.

    Katherine recently posted: Nothing Like a Cowboy - Review
  3. Laurel-Rain Snow

    I do love books from the WWII era, and the setting appeals to me as well. It is great to see characters dealing with their circumstances by fighting back in some way, through the black market, or whatever.

    Thanks for bringing this book to our attention.

    Laurel-Rain Snow recently posted: AUTHOR’S HOME PAGE
    • kimbacaffeinate

      I hadn’t heard of the Death Witches either Lanie, and of course had to research them. I always learn a little something when I read these novels. She doesn’t get an HEA, but I have a feeling her story is far from over.

  4. Tyler H Jolley

    I agree, WWII novels are fascinating but extremely sad. It’s hard to imagine the genocide and horrific things that happened. It’s even more personal when an author tries to get in the head of something like this. I’m glad Bruce did an great job.

    • kimbacaffeinate

      I am drawn to this particular period. Our ability to overcome and find moments of happiness during these times is powerful

  5. Judy Bruce

    Hi Kim,

    Thanks for reviewing my book. I’ll agree the ending was mixed–a fairytale ending didn’t seem realistic for a war story. The story actually came out April 1st, which was good timing for Memorial Day, D-Day, etc. So, no, it’s not light summer reading. As a side note, the notion of being “set free” is powerful in so many ways; my story only portrays one. I remember the pastor using those words at my younger sister’s funeral. Painful, powerful, yet joyful, in some circumstances…

    I’ve often thought of writing a sequel with my heroine now transported to America. We’ll see. I’m busy now with the Voices in the Wind series–Alone in the Wind will come this fall. Down the road is a Civil War story. Anyway, thanks again.

    Judy Bruce

    • kimbacaffeinate

      While the last chapters had me shedding a few tears, I do think the ending was perfect, realistic and that you left us with hope.

  6. kindlemom1

    I know what you mean about this era Kim, I am so fascinated with it too, I have been since Freshman year when our English teacher made us read a ton of books from this time period. I love that even with all the horrors that happened, love still did as well. That people could find some sliver of happiness in all the destruction and hate, it truly beautiful!

    kindlemom1 recently posted: Review: Magic Breaks by Ilona Andrews
  7. Ramona

    Different and definitely appealing. I’ve said it before, I have so much respect for your omnivorous literary appetite, Kimba. A captivating review.

    Ramona recently posted: Writing A Page Turner
  8. Lindy

    I’ve read many books about World War II and am fascinated by this time in history. I just cannot comprehend how human being can do such awful things to others. I had never head of a Night Witch. How brave that these female pilots risked their lives to help others. I find the question of whether Friedrich is a survivor or a coward an interesting one. Wow, this story sounds like it was suspenseful, informative, but also thought provoking. Excellent Review Kim 🙂