Lea offers a gripping novel about the difficult choices that soldiers face during wartime.
At the center of this novel is Anson Scott, an American volunteer who joins the British Royal Pennine Regiment in France during World War I. Scott has a secret reason for volunteering: he’s a reporter aiming to get the inside story on the war for his New York City newspaper. However, Scott doesn’t know what he’s getting into: “I told myself I was used to taking calculated risks....I was sure that I’d get through in one piece somehow. Poor bloody fool.” Scott makes a fast friend in David Alexander, an officer beloved by most in the regiment: “As he disappeared inside, there was a great roar of approval from the party.…I thought of how good it must make a man feel to have that sort of effect by simply walking into a room.” Scott takes on another secret when he falls for Alexander’s fiancee, Beatrice Tempest, a nurse. The American soon discovers that he’s not the only soldier there with secrets, and he spends the months leading up to the bloody Battle of the Somme learning about the truths behind the personnel of the Pennines. He also finds a home: “Only that evening I’d allowed myself, finally, to think I’d found a place where I fitted in.” Even those that survive that battle aren’t left unscarred, providing a bittersweet end to that chapter of Scott’s life. In this thought-provoking novel, the first in a planned series, Lea celebrates the heroism of soldiers, not the glory of war. He draws very well-developed characters that readers will care about, particularly Scott, Alexander, and Tempest. He also effectively captures the mundanity of daily life in a military camp. However, this book isn’t a work of military history: it’s a story of what soldiers will do for those they love, whether their brothers in arms or the people they left behind.
A war story that’s less about conflict that it is about emotion.