It is 1917. Edward is sixteen when he and his father get a letter about how Edward’s older brother, Hector, died courageously at the front. Instead of waiting until he is eighteen to enlist, as he had promised Hector, he sneaks off (against his father’s wishes) and pretends to be two years older than he is in order to join in on the action and take revenge on the Germans.
Edward is soon finished his training, and shipped off to England, only to be transferred from the infantry to the remount division on the first morning he’s there. Now, instead of fighting at the front, he’s stuck training horses and training in the reserve cavalry. When he finally gets his chance to see some action, however, he isn’t sent to the front in France as he’d been hoping, but is sent to Palestine to fight the Turks.
War, it turns out, is not how he had been expecting it at all.
As I mentioned on Twitter, this is a book that is best not read in public – if you have a tendency to tear up in books, that is. It takes place during WWI. Edward is a Canuck fighting in the war. Obviously characters that Edward gets close to are going die. It goes without saying. It would’ve come across as being completely unrealistic otherwise. I should’ve known not to bring this book to Starbucks with me, but to leave it for when I could curl up with it at home with a box of Kleenex at hand. Especially seeing as I knew this was going to be a rough read from the first chapter.
It starts right off with Hector’s death – practically throws you right into the action from the first page – and doesn’t slow down until the last page of the book. Even those long periods of time where nothing seems to happen go by quickly, and are chock full of plot or character development.
What I liked best about this book was how it dealt with people’s reactions to the war. Even though it was told in first person, you could see how the war effected other characters – how some people were motivated by a sense of duty, how others were motivated by revenge, how some people felt betrayed and lied by their King and country after seeing some action at the front, how some people felt like God betrayed them through this war. It was all there. Even some of the scarier parts – how some people seemed to enjoy the killing, how they seemed to act like it was all a game. It was … amazing how well Slade brought all of this across to the reader.
I have read more historical fiction this year than I normally do. This is one of the best pieces of historical fiction that I’ve ever read. It was brilliant and just … wow. It ranged from being heart breaking to hope inspiring to charming at different parts of the book. The characters were well fleshed out – even Edward’s horse, Bucephalus. And it made a period of time that was so important to our country and our world seem much more real and relatable.
Rachel has told me numerous times lately that Arthur Slade is one of Canada’s finest YA authors – if his other books are as well written as this one is, I have no doubt that that is true.
Does anyone know of any other YA books (Rilla of Ingelside aside, of course!) that take place during WWI?