Science fiction and fantasy                                            



To End All Wars

by David Tallerman

Raff Forrester is stuck in the trenches of a seemingly endless war as he battles through the First World War at the Front. Then one day he gets an order that's likely to mark the end of his war: he must lead a dangerous skirmish into No Man's Land, something that could well be a suicide mission ahead of a Big Push.

Raff is in the company of Middleton, a conscripted young student. As they both expect to get shot, they make mental and physical preparations for what lies ahead. This is a very evocative opening that puts the reader right there with the Tommies. The dirt, horror, and poverty is a stark backdrop to the scene, yet cups of tea, letters home, and the soldiers' attempts to keep up each other's morale make it real and add texture. You can almost smell the mud and fear.

Thus far it's realistic, until the skirmish, at which point the story gets quite strange. A wounded Raff is taken from the front in mysterious circumstances to recuperate at an isolated facility somewhere in England. But very little seems right about the medical facility, and the longer he stays there the more his questions multiply. Did he imagine what happened at the Front as a result of shell shock? Did he desert his men? Why is he being locked in his room like a prisoner? Why won't the quiet nurse who tends to him and brings him his meals speak to him? Why do people in his vicinity keep falling asleep en masse? Has he made enemies who want him court-martialled? And what is Forbes, the psychiatrist who is supposed to be treating him, hiding? With these and many other questions, To End All Wars is set up as a multi-layered mystery. It also poses the main character a knotty moral dilemma. Some of the later chapters are quiet and thoughtful, rather than focusing on fast-paced action with violence. These sections are more like puzzles than scraps.

However, the story also alternates with suspenseful parts as Raff is driven to try to escape, hide, and try to trick his way out of an intolerable situation, whilst brutality is never far away.

This story deals with the horrors of war and the efforts expended to find peace. It asks how far it is reasonable to go in the search for peace, and whether it is acceptable to torture, to imprison, or to crush the free will of an enemy or even a friend or victim, with this goal in mind.

Forrester's homosexuality, liable to get him into trouble in the era he's in, marks him as different. He's used to keeping his feelings suppressed and secrets hidden. Yet his character is also one with some fire, even when he's physically weak and the odds are against him, and this defiant streak makes his story all the more compelling, especially for readers who like to root for the underdog.

To End All Wars is a gritty story that balances action with moral questions, and mixes credible history with the fantastic. Some of the characters' phrases reminded me of the way my oldest grandfather used to speak, so I read it with a touch of nostalgia due to that association. It's well researched and enjoyable.

27th March 2020

Book Details

Year: 2020

Categories: Books

  Science fiction
 
  Bleak
  Male Protagonist  
  Not For The Squeamish  

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4 star rating

Review ©

Source: eARC