Posted by: Lizzie Ross | October 19, 2011

Napoleon’s Big Mistake

Russian Snows: Coming of Age in Napoleon’s Army (2011), Scott Armstrong, 161 pp.

My experience with this book is special, so you have to bear with me as I shamelessly promote it. Armstrong and I belong to an online writing group, formed earlier this year as we vied against each other in the ABNA quarterfinals. Two of our group members made it to the semis, but Armstrong didn’t, so he decided to self-publish.

I followed his progress from a 120K word count down to below 60K. What a task to set oneself! I can feel the pain of cutting the results of more than 50% of one’s toil. Ouch!

But what remains is a lovely evocation of early 1800s France and Napoleon’s army as it made its disastrous march into and out of Russia during a terrible winter. The story is told from the viewpoint of Henri, who joins the French army with his older brother. They dream of glory, of winning tremendous victories for their country, of comaraderie and good deeds. We already know the horrible outcome, because in the prologue a much older Henri tells his grandchildren that of more than half a million soldiers who began the eastbound march, only 20,000 returned. What we don’t know is how Henri survived.

Napoleon's Retreat from Moscow, Adolph Northen

Armstrong gives us the soldiers’ grueling experiences on a march over what seems like thousands of miles. Military tactics, battle scenes, day-to-day needs: all come to us through Henri’s eyes. Russian Snows is a perfect introduction to an important historical era; combined with Halse Anderson’s series on the American Revolution (Chains and Forge), this could get some reluctant boys interested in reading. These counterbalance the fantasy, paranormal and urban writing many young readers are drawn to — I’m not denigrating fantasy, paranormals, and urban fiction, but kids need to travel into the past as well as into other worlds. Armstrong makes an excellent tour guide.

BTW, this post coincides with Armstrong’s publication date, which also coincides with the anniversary of the date in 1812 when Napoleon’s army abandoned Moscow to begin its long march back to France.

Know a young person you’d like to hook into history? You can purchase a copy of Russian Snows from Armstrong’s website.

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