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SHOULDER THE SKY:
a novel of World War I
By Anne Perry
Ballantine Books, 2004 $25.95
Reviewed by Shirley H. Wetzel
This is the second volume in a five-volume set chronicling the events of World War I as seen through the eyes of the Reavley family. In the first book, NO GRAVES AS YET, the siblings were stunned by the death of their parents on the eve of the outbreak of the war. Matthew, a British intelligence officer, discovered that the deaths were no accidents, but part of a plot to undermine public support for the war, led by a shadowy but powerful figure nicknamed "The Peacemaker."
In this novel the action shifts to the Western Front in the spring of 1915. Joseph Reavley, an Army chaplain, tries to keep up morale and keep his faith amidst the horrors of trench warfare. When an obnoxious journalist is murdered, Joseph feels that he is honor-bound to find out who killed the man, even if the truth hurts those he deeply cares about. The journalist, Eldon Prentice, is the nephew of General Cullingford, a well-respected field officer who was manipulated into giving Prentice permission to put himself in harm's way for the sake of a story. Joseph's sister Judith, who had come to the Front to drive ambulances, further complicates the plot, with disastrous results.
Joseph goes back to England on leave, needing to get away from the hellish killing fields of Ypres. Matthew, in his quest to unmask "The Peacemaker," has discovered an important witness. Unfortunately the witness is fighting in Gallipoli. Matthew, unable to go look for him, persuades Joseph to take his place. During his short stay in Turkey we get a brief glance at the grim conditions of the war on that front as well. On the harrowing sea voyage back to France Joseph's faith is tried once again, and he is forced to discover whether he is capable of taking a human live to save others.
Perry's descriptions of the reality of war are heartbreakingly vivid and real. Her characters, dealing with the most stressful of circumstances, demonstrate all the best and worst behavior humans are capable of. The recurrent themes of honor and justice found in her two Victorian series are evident in these volumes as well. This is not an easy read, but it is well worth reading.
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