It’s 1916 and Freddie Castle is living in South London with his family. War has erupted in Europe, and it seems that all of London is helping with the war effort except Freddie’s brother Will. Freddie thinks his brother is a coward. Across the channel, Ernst Stender, a petty officer in the German Air Force, is helping to pilot the newly invented Zeppelin airships. When Ernst and his crew begin bombarding London, Freddie and his family are faced with the devastating consequences of war.
With the hundred-year anniversary of World War One occurring this year, Bernard Ashley’s novel is a timely story of how the war affected people on both sides of the conflict, in the trenches, and at home. Based on real events, the book is full of interesting historical details about life during war time. However, Ashley ’s desire to represent a variety of different experiences by creating three, sometimes five, different storylines makes for confusing reading. Until the latter half of the book, there is very little plot to connect the different accounts. There are two minor female characters, but the novel mainly revolves around male experiences of war, ideas of family loyalty and personal courage. Readers may struggle to connect with characters who only seem concerned about whether or not they will be perceived as cowards by their friends.
Readers would need to have some background knowledge of World War One in order to understand the events in the book. There are some depictions of violence, an attempted rape, and occasional coarse language. While Ashley demonstrates meticulous research and attention to detail he tries to cover too much territory, resulting in an unengaging and underdeveloped plot.