Back in July I featured Alan Furst’s 1996 novel The World at Night. In my post, I came to the conclusion that even though I was happy to read another of one Furst’s Night Soldiers novels I didn’t enjoy The World at Night nearly as much as I had his other novels. But hey, as far as I’m concerned even a so-so Alan Furst novel is better than a lot of stuff out there out currently being passed off as quality fiction.
Of course, I wasn’t going to let one minor disappointment stand in my way of reading the rest of Furst’s stuff. So, when I learned my public library had an available copy of Night Soldiers, I jumped at the opportunity to borrow it. And why shouldn’t I? After all, this is the novel that kicked off the 13 book long Night Soldiers series. A series that I’ve fallen head over heels for.
Published back in 1988, Night Soldiers begins in 1934 in an out-of-the-way, one-horse town in Bulgaria. Young local boy Khristo Stoianev winds up being recruited by a Soviet intelligence agent after Stoianev’s brother is beaten to death by fascist thugs. After being trained in the USSR in the finer points of spy craft and guerrilla warfare, (and seeing firsthand people around him vanish one by one, thanks to Stalin’s reign of terror) he’s off the Spain to fight the fascist Nationalists. From there it’s off to France and then Hungary.
Much of what can be found within the pages of Night Soldiers I would consider to be classic Alan Furst. It’s set on the European Continent. Action jumps from one county to another. There’s a dashing male protagonist who finds himself somewhat reluctantly pressed into the role of secret agent. Lastly, just like any Night Soldiers novels there’s time spent in Paris, including the obligatory visit to the Furst’s favorite restaurant the Brasserie Heninger.
But along with those similarities, there are differences as well. Night Soldiers is a more sweeping, chronologically speaking when compared to other books in this series, since it covers a time period of about six years. The protagonist in Night Soldiers, is younger than the 30-40 year old hero found in the rest of Furst’s novels. Lastly, it’s definitely the longest Alan Furst novel I’ve read so far, weighing in at just over 500 pages.
In conclusion, I’m pretty sure I enjoyed Night Soldiers more than I enjoyed The World at Night. I’m entirely sure why, but my guess is when compared to The World at Night, Night Soldiers felt like it had more of everything: action, intrigue, history and scope. Hard to go wrong when an international thriller has all of that.