Written by Hilary Jones
Review by Victoria Masters

Set during the First World War, this novel explores the horrors of war with, understandably given the writer’s background, an emphasis on the medical side. Will, a working-class lad, enlists when he is only 15 years old. (Some such boys who lied about their ages managed to avoid detection.) His compassion, physical strength and courage under fire soon has him detailed as a stretcher-bearer.

Here he meets Grace, the daughter of landed gentry, who, at an equally young age, is nursing on the front line. We follow their terrifying experiences as well as those of a range of other characters (although occasionally the head-hopping is a little dizzying), including Will’s brother and father.

Clearly a very great deal of research has gone into this writing this novel, and it is a rich mine of detail. Of particular interest is the information on the ravages of the Spanish flu, given the pandemic we’ve all just lived through. Will and Grace are sympathetically drawn, as is, especially, the story of Captain Daniel’s near-drowning in mud and his subsequent brutal treatment for desertion. This is an ambitious, sweeping epic of a story, visceral in its descriptions, and written with great insight and empathy.