Finishing off a busy week over here on the blog with a review of Kate Williams’ The Storms of War – which I started during #Sunathon and has taken me longer to read than you’d expect considering how much I enjoyed it – because of the fact that it’s a hardback and I can’t lug it around with me on the train.
Firstly, I love a good saga – I worked my way through Barbara Taylor Bradford’s Woman of Substance trilogy when I was 16 (back when it was still a trilogy!) and then moved on to Elizabeth Jane Howard’s Cazalet books, which I adored – so this looked just up my street, especially when you consider that I studied First World War Literature for my A-Level English Literature.
So, the plot: The de Witts are an Anglo-German family, who, at the start of the Great War, are preparing for the marriage of their eldest daughter to a member of the English Nobility. Rudolph, the father, is from Germany and has made his money through meat factories. Verena, the mother, is the daughter of a lord and they have four children Michael, Emmeline, Celia and Arthur (who is away from home at the start of the war). The book follows them through the war, as Rudolph suddenly becomes an outcast in the country he considers his home and the children face not only the consequences of that – but the effects of the war in general.
I really enjoyed this – as I’ve already said on Twitter – I would describe it as Cazalets do World War One, but with added tensions caused by the family’s German links. The characters were interesting and engaging and having read a lot of books about World War One over the years, both novels and non-fiction, their experiences seemed realistic and rang true with what I have read – which to be honest is only what you’d expect as Kate Williams is a “proper” historian. The fresh angle here is that Anglo-German twist that I’ve already mentioned – and I thought that was handled really well. Book two is promised for next year – and I look forward to seeing how the family fares in the post-Great War world. I foresee interesting possibilities – particularly as there are ends left untied here and a development at the very end of the book creates potential for fresh conflict within the family.
I’ve read some of Kate Williams’ historical biographies in the past – but it was a few years ago and I found the writing style a little harder to get on with than some others in that genre. This, however is an absolute joy to read – and very difficult to put down (despite its size!) – and it has inspired me to bump one of her other books that’s still sitting on the to-read pile up to the top of the list. The front cover has a quote from Alison Weir recommending it to fans of Downton Abbey and although I think that’s a bit of a simplistic view of the market for this book, I think that it is a great way of getting people to pick up what is a large and intimidating looking hardback.
There’s a wealth of books about World War One out there (and lots of new ones appearing at the moment because of the anniversary) so there are lots of other books to read if you like this – I’ve already mentioned the Cazalets which is a slightly later period, but is a similar sort of family saga – but there are also books like Pat Barker’s Regeneration and a wealth of accounts written by people who lived through the Great War – like Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front and Robert Graves’ Goodbye to All That.
Kate Williams’ The Storms of War should be in all good bookshops – as the phrase goes – and here are my traditional links to Foyles for the hardback and Amazon for the more portable Kindle edition. This is the sort of book I always want an actual copy of though – as I know I’ll want to lend it to my mum and sister if it’s any good.