The Shadow of War

Written by Stewart Binns
Review by M.K. Tod

In the opening chapters of The Shadow of War, the first of Stewart Binns’ five-book series on WWI, readers are introduced to the five groups who will anchor his story. He writes of the poor Thomas family living in Wales; Maurice and Harry, who are regular army in the Fusiliers; Winston Churchill and his circle of family, friends and politicians; the aristocrats of Blair Atholl in Perthshire; and several working men and women from Burnley, Lancashire. And throughout the novel, which takes place during the last seven months of 1914, we follow the involvement of each group in the early stages of WWI. As the cover says, “All that they have known will be changed forever by the catastrophic events of the Great War.”

Of the five groups, Churchill comes to life best with his wife, Clemmie, and people such as David Lloyd George, Jack Churchill, Lord Kitchener and Prime Minister Asquith. Binns’ dialogue is another excellent aspect of the novel, and the author is clearly very skilled at weaving historical facts and obscure incidents into his stories. Having read Anarchy, an earlier novel, I was expecting an action-packed story with vivid characters woven into historical events. Instead, using a distant narrator voice and told in the present tense, The Shadow of War gives the reader a sense of looking down on the players from a great height rather than being with them in the thick of things. As the weeks and months of 1914 unfold, Binns offers a mix of fact and fiction, almost as though he cannot decide whether he’s writing a novel or a non-fiction account of war.