Next July is the centennial anniversary of the Great War’s beginning and an increasing number of new historical novels are set in this time period. These are a few of our favorites from 2013.
Like in most novels, characters in war stories come from all walks of life in order to portray the wide-ranging influence such conflicts produce. Love stories, epistolary tales, soldiers’ bitter and heroic experiences and the stories of medics’ bravery combine to serve as conduits of historical experience for the reader. A common character in World War I fiction is a nurse or an ambulance driver, as witnessed by the long-running popular mystery series featuring Bess Crawford, written by Charles Todd (the most recent entry is A Question of Honor) and the post-war detective, Maisie Dobbs, introduced ten years ago by Jacqueline Winspear. (The series opener is entitled Maisie Dobbs.) In Thomas Keneally’s new novel, The Daughters of Mars, two sister nurses from Australia join the war effort and their adventures and experiences treating horrific wounds bespeak the war’s heavy psychological toll.
In The Cartographer of No Man’s Land by P. S. Duffy, Angus, a pacifist, enlists in order to help find his brother-in-law missing at the Front, having been assured of a cartographer’s position in London. Assigned instead to map the trenches of France, he experiences the horrors of battle and scenes that will haunt him forever. Rivaling Jeff Shaara’s war novels with her riveting, graphic depiction of trench warfare and the confusion of capricious fate during battle, Elizabeth Speller’s The First of July (coming out in November 2013) is the story of four vastly different men completely changed by their combat experiences.
The families of these soldiers, nurses, medics and others who work at war serve in an equally large variety of supporting roles as seen in the family dramas like the PBS television series, “Downton Abbey” and the many novels with similar stories such as Benedict Hall by Cate Campbell and Ashton Park by Murray Pura.
For readers who enjoy stories told in letters, Jessica Brockmole’s Letters from Skye portrays a moving love story that begins in World War I and stretches to the 1940s and World War II. Similarly moving is Stella Bain, a new book by Anita Shreve that tells the story of a physician and his wife who take in an amnesiac nurse’s adie wounded in the war.
Other historical novels set during the World War I era are listed here:
Historical Fiction: World War I Novels