No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Hardcover: 592 pages
Publisher: Nan A. Talese
Released: Jan. 24, 2017
Source: Review copy from the publisher.
Book Description, Modified from Goodreads:
Inspired by the real-life experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I, Simon Tolkien delivers a perfectly rendered novel rife with class tension, period detail, and stirring action, ranging from the sharply divided society of northern England to the trenches of the Somme.
Adam Raine's impoverished childhood in turn-of-the-century London comes to a sudden and tragic end when his mother is killed in a workers' protest march. His father, Daniel, is barely able to cope with the loss. But a job offer in the coal mining town of Scarsdale presents one last chance, so father and son head north. The relocation is hard on Adam: the local boys prove difficult to befriend, and he never quite fits in. Meanwhile tensions between the miners and their employer, Sir John Scarsdale, escalate, and finally explode with terrible consequences.
In the aftermath, Adam's fate shifts once again, and he finds himself drawn into the opulent Scarsdale family home where he makes an enemy of Sir John's son, Brice, who subjects Adam to a succession of petty cruelties for daring to step above his station. However, Adam finds consolation in the company of Miriam, the local parson's beautiful daughter with whom he falls in love. When they become engaged and Adam wins a scholarship to Oxford, he starts to feel that his life is finally coming together--until the outbreak of war threatens to tear everything apart.
No Man's Land is historical fiction set in 1909 to 1919 in England and France. Though the novel is lengthy, the author wasn't wordy. He brought the time period alive with vivid descriptions, and these details didn't slow the story but served to move the story forward. Every scene served to develop the characters into complex, realistic people with a wide range of personalities.
I didn't intend to read this book because the WWI scenes take up nearly half of the book and I knew those scenes would be hard to read. But I give every book a chance, and I was so drawn into the story that I ended up reading the whole thing. Many bad things happen, but I didn't feel forced to "live" the emotions with the characters even though I sympathized with the pain and struggles that they went through.
Trench warfare wasn't pretty, and the horrors of it are described. Yet there was just enough distance that I didn't feel like I was living it with the characters; it just inspired great sympathy for those who lived through it. There were no sex scenes. There was some bad language. Overall, I'd recommend this well-written historical novel.
If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.
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