The Storms of War

Written by Kate Williams
Review by Janet Hancock

The strapline of this WW1 saga, the first of a trilogy, announces: “Atonement meets Downton Abbey”. The book begins in July 1914. The de Witt family are nouveaux riches from the manufacture of tinned meat. Rudolf, German by birth but living in England for more than 30 years, married old money. One son lives in Paris, the second is at Cambridge University. A society wedding is planned for daughter Emmeline later in the year. Most of the narrative unfolds through the eyes of Celia, the youngest child, 15 in 1914. We follow the family until the end of 1918. There is a lot here, any of which could be a novel in its own right: family secrets, illicit love, the truth behind a family member’s death in France. For me, the most moving part of the book is Celia’s year driving an ambulance in France, having stolen her sister’s birth certificate to lie about her age: the shattering of innocence, the horrors and dirt, the camaraderie between the girls sharing precious pieces of chocolate, came over well. The author is well known as a TV journalist and broadcaster. The Storms of War is a TV-adaptation-in-waiting.