Frank Martin used to be a police officer, with a wife and two children. It was neither a great life, nor a happy one, but he did well enough. Now, he’s a corporal in the English army fighting in the deadliest war ever recorded. It’s called the Great War, the war to end all wars, and Frank is serving on the front line, deep in the trenches. Again and again, Frank and his men attempt to gain a finger hold, an inch more into no man’s land, facing volley after volley of artillery. Part of his duties as Corporal is to keep track of the fallen, to record the deaths of the young men — boys, really — who climb out of the trenches never to return. It’s grueling, heart-killing work and Frank has done his best to become inured to the pain.
When random chance brings him a new assignment as aide to Major Archibald Blythe, Frank is taken away from the trenches, away from his friends and his duty, and put to work with one of the men who helps make the plans that send men to die. At first, Major Blythe seems aloof and distant, but as the two men get to know one another and get closer, Frank can’t help but see the sensitive, earnest man who only wants to do good in the world. A man who holds Frank through his nightmares, who does what he can to help where he can, and a man Frank slowly begins to love.
Archibald has a head for organization, and sometimes he really wishes he didn’t. Every report he makes, every suggestion, every calculation he takes results in men dying. He is one of the few men asked to take up the burden to weigh the loss of life against the loss of land, to decide how many casualties is “acceptable.” It eats at him and it hurts. So he does what small, simple things he can do to try to help. He teaches the young French boy at the farmhouse English and encourages him in his studies. He makes sure Frank gets a winter coat and some fresh socks. He remembers names. He thinks well of others, even when they don’t think well of him. And he mourns the fallen, especially those that were sent out by his hand.
Frank is a rock, for Archibald. He’s a voice of reason and support, and a much needed shelter from the storm inside Archibald’s heart and head. Frank stands toe to toe against officers to protect Archibald, and Archibald does as he can to stand toe to toe with the demons that attack Frank’s sleep, holding the other man in his arms and giving what comfort he can. Their instant friendship deepens over the days and weeks and months into something more, but both of them know that their romance is a temporary thing made possible only by the war. Even though both want more, even though both know they can’t have more.
This is a beautifully written historical romance with an emphasis on the romance. For some books, the historical aspect becomes diffuse and generalized, so much so that the story could take place in almost any time period, but this story is so well told with such sincerity and grounded realism and it felt very much like a 1920s, World War I romance. The politics of rank, the realities of Frank’s marriage, the discrete speculation about Archibald, a confirmed bachelor, and even the steps the two men had to take to be with one another all highlight the time period.
I honestly enjoyed this book, and enjoyed the sweet and mature romance between Archibald and Frank. They felt like real people living real lives, and the ending of this book was both heartwarming and sweet. If you’re a fan of historical romances, please do consider this very lovely story.