As a person who hasn’t read a book out of sheer enjoyment in around three years, I found myself revitalized by the constant boredom I was put through from quarantine. I picked up a book and after around 20 pages I was interested in the plot and the story, but I ended up just forgetting about it.
It wasn’t until a couple months later when I read for pleasure again. During my intro to literature class, I found myself actually reading the assigned readings of the books we had, and it wasn’t terrible. After a month or two of the class I went to Barnes and Nobles on a journey to find a book. After 10 minutes looking at TikTok reviews of books, I found City of Thieves by David Benioff. I read the first five pages and decided to buy.
If I’m being honest, it took me a while to get “hooked,” but once I reached around the third chapter, I fell in love with the characters and story itself. The dynamic between Lev and Koyla (the main characters) is made apparent immediately once they meet, and you begin to love them.
To summarize the story, it takes place in Russia, with Lev Beniov, in his hometown of Piter, Russia. He is caught by Russian police for robbing a German paratrooper and is sent to prison. There he meets Koyla Vlasov, a Russian soldier who looks strangely German, who was caught for deserting. Instead of being murdered, they are taken to a Colonel and the two are tasked with finding a dozen eggs in a week. If they don’t, they get murdered. From the beginning, they learn to enjoy each other’s company, despite their differing personalities.
City of Thieves was so entertaining to me because it was both a war story and a coming-of-age story. The main characters, Lev and Koyla are 17 and 19, reaching the brink of adulthood simultaneously as their childhood was taken away at the start of the war.
During certain parts in the book, the characters go through exposition and we learn more about their families and their lives. You watch the characters grow with each other, and though it might not seem like much at first, there are countless key moments in the story that lead to their growth with each other. Towards the end of book, they truly understand each other, their motives for life, their aspirations. It’s a lovely realization the characters and readers share. Their love for literature often causes them to bicker, but it also is one of the key ways they share more about themselves.
Also, with it being a coming-of-age story, there still manages to be girl problems, primarily for the character Lev. With Koyla constantly teasing Lev for his lack of knowledge using his witty innuendo, and flaunting his unrelenting confidence and charm is a comedic change from the constant threat of death. The combination of Koyla’s humorous and cocky attitude mixed with Lev’s realistic and contemplative mindset constantly initiates fighting between the two. However, it’s never overdone. It is during points where it seems necessary, either to keep the two sane, or to pass time. The combination of going through adolescence during war, with the dynamic of Lev and Koyla, is perfect.
This book was also one of the few books to really get my heart pumping reading a scene. Naturally, because it takes place in a war, there are bound to be life-threatening situations, and there’s one in particular that truly had my heart racing. This is a feeling I hadn’t felt before while reading a book. The scene itself had my mind racing with thoughts of how it might turn out. It genuinely had me excited to read, which I can rarely ever say.
Multiple times in this book you’ll find your heart and mind racing as the characters go through dangerous situations that sometimes look as if death is the only option. Following up with death, this book also made me genuinely sad. In my younger days, I didn’t read many books with such sadness and brutality, but this book presented that in a heart-wrenching way. During war, death is always present, and this holds true. With all its comedic or adrenaline highs, it reaches some pretty disheartening lows.
Ultimately, if you wanted to get back into reading, I recommend this book. It’s not too difficult, with the hardest part understanding where exactly the characters are since it takes place in Russia. There are numerous hidden meanings and when you start to discover the relationships between them, you begin to love it more.