I received my copy from the publisher through NetGalley and rated it 4.5 stars.
About 15 years ago I decided that I'd read enough books about WW II to last me a life-time and would try to stay away from them. That was before I read `The Book Thief', before I discovered Elizabeth Wein and before I even knew `Unhinge the Universe' existed. So far, every single time I broke my vow has been rewarded with a wonderful reading experience. I guess it is time to admit that a good book is a good book even when it is set at a time and place I've already read too many books about.
`Unhinge the Universe' is indeed a wonderful book for several reasons. First and foremost this is a well written book with an intriguing, tension-filled, sexy and captivating storyline, fascinating main characters and a perspective I haven't come across before.
In a story set during this war you expect the line between good and bad to be obvious; of course the German has to be the villain and the American the hero. It makes a refreshing change to see the authors haven't chosen the easy and obvious route and have managed to create two characters who, while on opposite sides, both have personal reasons for hating and distrusting each other only for those reasons to slip into the background and the attraction between the two of them to take over.
I loved how what started as a game to get the upper hand over the other man slowly turned into a connection that both John and Hagen found impossible to ignore despite the obvious dangers involved. Both men start of trying to use the other man's homosexuality against him only to find that not only have they given each other a potentially lethal weapon they have also discovered an attraction that won't be denied.
The reluctant but growing attraction between Hagen and John was a delight to read although I have to admit that the change in their feelings towards each other happened a bit too quickly for me. Even taking into account the fact that they were in a war situation where `normal' time-lines and emotions don't apply I couldn't help feeling that both of them were able to put their personal losses behind them a bit too easily. And there were one or two other issues that made me raise my eyebrows because they seemed unlikely. But, and I can't stress this enough, it didn't take away from my reading pleasure at all. In fact, my `issues' only surfaced after I'd finished the book and reflected on the story. While I was reading the story and caught up in the tension my only concern was for John and Hagen and their seemingly impossible future.
The fact that I couldn't imagine how a happy ending might be achieved for these two characters made this a rather strange reading experience - wonderful but strange. Whenever I had to put the book down for a moment I had a very hard time picking it back up, not because I didn't love the book, I did, but because I was so worried about these two characters. I didn't want to get to the last page if it wouldn't bring me the ending I was hoping for. What was even more amazing was that I was having these angsty feelings while Hagen and John didn't. I guess that made sense for these characters; in a war situation living in and worrying about the moment rather than the future is probably the only way to survive. Finding myself torn between the need to know how the story would end and being afraid to do so, just in case the ending wouldn't be what I was hoping for, was exhilarating and meant that even while I wasn't actually reading, John and Hagen were firmly stuck in my mind. I have no doubt that they will linger there for a while longer.
This book surprised and delighted me. An unlikely but sensual and sexy love story in an even more unlikely setting on its own would be enough to make me a happy reader. The fact that these authors managed to combine that love story with a description of war that was neither glorifying it nor resorting to stereotypes made this book a treasure. It is safe to say that Aleksandr Voinov and L.A. Witt have found themselves another fan to add to what should, by rights, be a multitude of admirers.
"Strange, he thought, how it really was the same for the men on either side of this war. It battered them all the same, broke men in one uniform as easily as the other, and deep down, everyone just wanted it to be over. Maybe someday, it would be" - John