Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Storms of War (Book Review)

Title: The Storms of War
Author: Kate Williams
Publication: Pegasus Books, Hardcover, 2015
Genre: Historical Fiction
Plot: What seems to be a carefree English family on the brink of World War I possesses a not very well kept secret – the affable father, Rudolf de Witt, a prosperous canned meat manufacturer, is German born, although he came to England many years ago and married a well-born Englishwoman. He has four children: Arthur, who spends most of the book in Paris; Michael, who is too sensitive to participate in a war; Emmeline, a spoiled beauty; and the youngest, Celia, who is the main character. When war breaks out, the de Witt family is shunned for its German roots, from Emmeline’s arrogant (and not in a charming way) fiancĂ© and the village children spurning a summer fĂȘte to the government treating Rudolf as an enemy of the state. Celia is the most interesting character. Like my favorite Vera Brittain, she can’t bear to be left behind when her brother and closest friend are serving in France, so signs up to drive ambulances despite never having driven a car.  This volume follows the de Witt family from 1914 to 1918

Audience: Fans of historical fiction and those who share my interest in women and war work. I have also added this book to my Downton Abbey Recommended Reading List.

What I liked: Author Williams is a historian, known for books about Queen Victoria, Emma Hamilton, and Josephine Bonaparte, and her writing is strong and historically accurate. I never had that moment, too frequent lately in poorly edited books, where one come across an anachronism that completely jolts the reader out of the book. The quality of the writing greatly contributed to my enjoyment of The Storms of War.

I have read dozens of books set during this time frame and, as I mentioned to a friend last night, I am very familiar with all the usual plot variations: heroine in love with family retainer, heroine wants to go to university, heroine misunderstood by family, heroine wants to serve in France like brother, male character can’t handle pressure of battle, shell-shocked soldiers, and many more. However, I felt that Williams handled these well-worn plot elements in a way that made them seem fresh, entertaining, and appealing. I particularly appreciated the vivid descriptions of Celia nerve-rackingly driving an ambulance in the dark in France!
What I disliked: I did not find Emmeline’s behavior convincing, and I became less fond of Celia as the book progressed. She became obsessed with her own concerns, and I found it annoying when she ignored her responsibility to her distraught mother or lied to Captain Russell, the dour but surprisingly understanding officer she drives in London. I guess I like my heroines unflawed, which isn’t really fair!

Source: I read about this book when it was published in England (in fact, I suggested to several editor friends that they acquire it quickly but I guess Pegasus beat them to the punch) and requested it from the Brookline Library. Looking forward to the next book in the trilogy!

(photo above of a woman ambulance driver is copyright to

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