Rating: 4.75 stars
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Give me one fixed point and a long enough lever, and I’ll unhinge the universe. — Archimedes
SS Lieutenant Hagen Friedrich parachutes into enemy territory in the French countryside, ready to meet up with his brother and a small band of soldiers for a secret mission. When he arrives at the rendezvous point, however, Hagen is dismayed to find the other soldiers dead and his brother captured. Determined to rescue his brother, Hagen attempts a daring attack on the enemy camp, only to find himself captured as well.
American Captain John Nicholls has been tasked with interogating Hagan and learning his secrets –What was their mission? What is in the papers Hagan’s brother was carrying? Who authorized them? Learning these answers could change the tide of the war and save many American lives and John is determined to find out, no matter what it takes. At first the men are at odds, enemies whose only goal is to continue to thwart the other. But somehow these guys begin to connect with one another, first over a hint of shared attraction, but later as they begin to see the humanity in one another. They each begin to see beyond the enemy soldier to the man underneath, and form both a physical and emotional bond neither man expected.
But war is not the time or place for relationships, especially between men on opposite sides. John and Hagen must hide their feelings for one another, even as they continue to grow stronger. And even though he is John’s captive, Hagen isn’t fully safe as the Americans look for retaliation against the SS for atrocities against American prisoners. Though the men have formed an unexpected bond, staying alive and making it home to safety might be impossible.
Oh, you guys, this was so good! I am not always a huge military history fan, so I really wasn’t sure what to expect from this one. But really, Unhinge the Universe just blew me away, and there is something here that I think will speak to just about everyone.
First, the rich historical and military detail here are just amazing. I have learned to expect nothing less from these authors and Voinov in particular excels at integrating these rich details into his stories so seamlessly. Everything feels so perfectly researched and exactly of the time. We are immersed in life at the end of the war, of soldiers who are seeing the tide turning, and both sides realizing the end is near. There is that sense of constant fear and high alert, that at any moment the enemy can be around the corner, never knowing who to trust. The authors manage to give us vivid detail on weapons and logistics and life in the military without overwhelming the story. I found myself fascinated and totally immersed in the environment.
What is perhaps even more impressive is the way the authors manage to humanize both these men and make it believable that these two enemies would somehow find their way to being friends, and even lovers. It starts so slow and subtly, those tiny steps from hatred to that little bit of acceptance of the other’s humanity. Slowly they begin to form a bond of trust, even as they can not believe it themselves. And that bond grows to true caring and affection, until the men reach the point where their feelings for each other are so strong as to almost overwhelm them, even as they must fiercely protect their secrets.
The authors do a great job of really helping us identify with both men. The story opens with Hagen, giving us a glimpse into him and his life before we see him officially as the enemy. And throughout we get alternating POVs, learning about both men and understanding their feelings as the story develops. It is quite a feat to make a Nazi soldier sympathetic, yet to the authors’ credit, I found myself rooting for Hagen, hoping for him to get his happy ending along with John.
This is really a beautiful and richly developed story, one that kept me totally enraptured from the very start. I definitely encourage you to give it a try and highly recommend Unhinge the Universe.
Cover review: The cover is just gorgeous (though I’ll admit it is tweaking me a bit that John looks like a cross between John Hamm and Jeff Probst). Really lovely.