In the middle novel of Young's projected World War I trilogy, a disfigured British soldier and the officer he saved face arduous struggles, as do the women they left behind.
The story is set in 1919, six months after the conflict ended. Riley Purefoy, who has aged well beyond his 23 years, must cope with a blown-off jaw that has rendered him barely able to speak and unable to enjoy intimacy with the plucky, adoring Nadine. After he marries her at the start of the book, he also has to cope with her disapproving parents. His friend and best man, Peter, the officer, has descended into alcoholism to shut off traumatic memories of his failures on the battlefront. His wife, Julia, uses a chemical treatment in an attempt to make herself more attractive to him and ends up defiling her natural beauty; she's so devastated by his rejection that she leaves for Biarritz. The book centers on Riley's slow emotional and physical healing. Once again, he becomes the self-punishing Peter's only hope for survival. Painfully kept secrets unravel. A troubled pregnancy darkens the narrative. For fans of Downton Abbey, there is much to enjoy in Young's skillful plotting and sometimes-heartbreaking story, though she avoids the soap operatic trimmings of the TV show. From the start, the author is in exquisite control, beautifully balancing modest moments with dramatic ones.
Having invested in Young's characters in the superb My Dear, I Wanted to Tell You (2011), we care even more about them the second time around. One looks forward to reading the final installment.