Hephaestus has caught Aphrodite and Ares in their affair and he’s determined to get the justice he deserves. But then Aphrodite offers to explain herself through two stories of love, set in World War I. How could this possibly help her case?
Julie Berry is one of my auto-buy authors, so I was EXTREMELY excited when I found out she was going to Utah on her book tour! I was also a little bit crushed that she had to come now because all of my books by her are in storage, including The Passion of Dolssa, which is my favorite book of all time. But despite that little disappointment, I picked up Lovely War and met this amazing author who has written such stunning books. I was star struck. But gosh, she was so nice. I hope she comes back with her next book so she can sign ALL of my books by her (three and counting lol).
Seriously though, meeting her was a dream come true. *happy sigh*. As for Lovely War, I had very high expectations, and it didn’t disappoint. Everything about this book gives me all sorts of emotions. I’ll try to organize them in a non-convoluted way (haha we’ll see!)
It’s 1917, and World War I is at its zenith when Hazel and James first catch sight of each other at a London party. She’s a shy and talented pianist; he’s a newly minted soldier with dreams of becoming an architect. When they fall in love, it’s immediate and deep—and cut short when James is shipped off to the killing fields.
Aubrey Edwards is also headed toward the trenches. A gifted musician who’s played Carnegie Hall, he’s a member of the 15th New York Infantry, an all-African-American regiment being sent to Europe to help end the Great War. Love is the last thing on his mind. But that’s before he meets Colette Fournier, a Belgian chanteuse who’s already survived unspeakable tragedy at the hands of the Germans.
Thirty years after these four lovers’ fates collide, the Greek goddess Aphrodite tells their stories to her husband, Hephaestus, and her lover, Ares, in a luxe Manhattan hotel room at the height of World War II. She seeks to answer the age-old question: Why are Love and War eternally drawn to one another? But her quest for a conclusion that will satisfy her jealous husband uncovers a multi-threaded tale of prejudice, trauma, and music and reveals that War is no match for the power of Love.
Plot and Structure
Lovely War is enormous, just under 500 pages, but I flew through it. Though it is character-driven, the story felt very fast paced, moved along by the short chapters and interrupted by the banter of the Greek gods telling the tale. At times it is funny, and others it is heartbreaking.
This is a tale of two budding romances during World War I, thus the war is at the center of everything our four main characters do. They go to war, they go on leave, terrible things happen, good things happen. They fall deeper in love. They are pulled apart. And while at times these two stories feel like a ‘normal’ love story, there is something truly special in their ordinariness, and I believe that can be attributed to Aphrodite’s place in this book.
She narrates most of the book, as she is trying to explain to her husband, Hephaestus, why Love and War are seemingly drawn together. This structure is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It gives the love stories a quality that is larger than life. She makes everything seem so special. Honestly, she makes this book special.
Expect your heart to be light and filled at times, and then expect to cry at other parts. I was both saddened, horrified, and uplifted. I couldn’t have asked for a better journey of a book.
Julie Berry’s characters came to life for me. They each had their own flaws and personalities, so distinct you couldn’t mistake them for anyone else. There is quite a cast as well, so I feel like that’s a great accomplishment.
The Greek gods’ role in this story surprised me greatly. They are each larger than life in their personalities, but they have such interesting character ticks. When Aphrodite is telling the story, she sighs and hums at the romantic parts–she gets defensive when people believe she is meddling. Ares’ prose is stark and straight to the point. Apollo delves into the music of everything. Hades’ tone is always a little morose but surprisingly respectful of the dead. There are so many representations of the Greek gods out there, but I felt like Berry’s depiction of them is unique, yet still true to form. I also felt like I learned more about them as living characters than as deities. Especially Aphrodite.
The mortals in this story also seem so real. I latched onto each of them, onto their dreams and fears, their hopes and sorrows. Hazel is so adventurous and talented, though shy. James is so innocent and idealistic. Colette is hardened and self-deprecating, though loving. And Aubrey is loud and brash, optimistic and caring. Each of them came out of their hardships different–better–but still holding onto what they care about most. Not only does Lovely War contain two beautiful romances, there are also some beautiful friendships. Hazel and Colette, James and his comrades, Aubrey and his comrades. The family relationships also felt realistic and beautiful.
When I came to the end, I was incredibly reluctant to let each of these people go. Their stories were so beautiful.
I love reading historical fiction that just immerses you in the settings of the time. Britain, Paris, New York in the 1910s…the trenches, the battlefields, the YMCA huts. I felt as if I had experienced it all. The conflicts, both political and racial, were painted in such a way that I feel as if I understand them more.
Berry doesn’t stay away from the nitty gritty, dreadful things of the war, and I really appreciated this. There was no sugarcoating, no rose-colored glasses, despite this being a romance. Everything felt realistic, as if it could’ve happened to anyone at the time.
After reading this book, I still stand by my opinion that Julie Berry is one of the finest YA writers right now. I adored this book. I couldn’t put it down. I will read it again and once again be amazed at the level of detail, the level of thought that went into this beautiful novel. I would recommend it to anyone who loves WWI stories, romances, or just beautiful books in general.