Paul Dowswell has been making a name as a writer of historical fiction for children, and for me this is his best yet. Set in the closing hours of the First World War, it conjures up the raw recruits and tired four-year veterans of the front line, still under orders to fight until the final moments before Armistice. You know what will happen in the great scheme, and yet you don't know what will happen to the three main characters, drawn closer and closer together in the last throes of the conflict. Country boys Will Franklin and Axel Meyer have barely arrived at the Front, on the English and German sides; seasoned American pilot Eddie Hertz is looking for one last victory notch on his propeller before returning to high society in New York. Over the last few hours of the war, the three are brought together in an unlikely, desperate and vital bond.
The plot is taut as a thriller, and Dowswell brilliantly captures the atmospheric detail that brings exhausted troops in the battle-churned Belgian countryside alive off the page: the wary camaraderie, grinding Army procedure, flashes of humanity, gallows humour and above all the dull misery of damp and cold and inadequate rations, spiked with fear when shells rain in or snipers strike. It's so hard for us to comprehend the First World War at this distance - so long ago, so enormous, so many lives lost for such unfathomable causes and apparently insignificant gains. Dowswell makes it possible to live and feel the conflict through his three protagonists - and to realise that they had not much more idea of the causes and grand ideas than we do, and are much closer and more like us than we would imagine. A powerful, wise and brillliantly readable book.
Every now and again I find a book that stays with me long after I've finished reading it. This is one of those books. Set on one day at the end of WWI it follows three main characters thrown together by the hell of war as they inch towards the end of the conflict. It's their ordinariness that makes them so believable and I felt as if I was with them down there in the mud, looking on, watching and hoping as the drama unfolded. And perhaps that's what I liked best about this book: in the end I came away with the feeling that there was hope despite it all and that something good can be found even in the darkest places. A good read for 11+ and far beyond that. I think the BBC should film this.
Some 3,000 soldiers on both sides were killed on the very last day of the First World War, in the eleven hours before the Armistice came into effect at 11am on 11 November 1918. This novel, aimed at younger readers, though worth reading by anyone, tells the stories of some of those who died, and some of those who survived, during those last few hours, based around the doings of three young men, one British, one German and one American. There are poignant stories of those who die in moments of carelessness or through casual mischance, often at the hands, or rather the bullets, of a sniper hidden in the forest. There is great anger expressed over the fact that the Armistice does not come into effect for six hours after it is signed and yet some people on all sides fight right up until the end, and many soldiers did not know the Armistice had been signed for much of that time. These stories are in a way more poignant and heart-rending than many others - to die so near to the end is even more than usually tragic and wasteful of young lives; some of the minor characters who do so have actually managed to survive for four years at the Front. A gripping and fairly short read.
Bought for my daughter to read with her book club. I also read the book and it was fantastic. Keeps you gripped the entire way through and both my daughter and I were in tears at the end. Well worth it
Paul Dowswells books are always well researched and accurate and I'm sure this is no exception, I just didn't find it quite as gripping or challenging as some of his other books. Set on the last day of WW1 in the last few hours, it brings together an American pilot, an underage British infantryman and a German infantryman who all meet in the last hour of the war.
When I got this book I did not know that it was fictitious . As I got in to it I really enjoyed it in the end I could not put it down . My grandfather was a medic during the first world war he was at the Somme he found his brother dead on the battlefield so I can relate to this book .enjoyed every minute of it.