Any slew of adjectives could not describe the admirable novel that is Lovely War by Julie Berry. Berry integrates historical fiction, Greek mythology, and modern day language to create a phenomenal story full of love, war, and heartache. The novel follows the story of four young adults – two male soldiers and two girls – as they find love during World War I. It is narrated by Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty, as she is put on trial by her husband, Hephaestus – god of metalworking and fire – for her infidelity with Ares, the god of war.
James and Hazel first meet at a party in London. She’s a shy and talented pianist and he’s an aspiring architect bound for war. For them it’s love at first sight, but it is cut short when James is sent off to become a sharpshooter in France. Aubrey Edwards is also set for the trenches. Like Hazel, he is a gifted pianist and is recruited to play with the 15th Regiment of the New York Infantry, an all-African-American Regiment. He falls in love with a Belgian nightclub singer who is volunteering with the YMCA to help soldiers waiting for battle. They bond through their love of music. Thirty years after the couples meet and the war begins, Aphrodite tells their stories to her husband, Hephaestus, and her lover, Ares, to prove that love and war will always coincide. They are set in a deluxe Manhattan hotel room at the end of World War II.
The premise of the book was fascinating and immediately grabbed my attention. I thought, no way could one writer incorporate all of these genres – Greek mythology, historical fiction, and romance – all together in one book and make it cohesive and well-written, but Julie Berry surprised me. I am not typically a fan of romance novels, but the story intrigued me with its inclusion of Greek mythology and historical fiction. From the first page I was teleported to the dirty trenches of World War I, a Manhattan hotel room, and even the Underworld. The book also successfully discusses several issues, like shell shock, racial discrimination and prejudice, physical and mental degredation and injuries, grief, and obviously, love. The romance in the novel seems rather cliché, and although it wasn’t what pulled me in, it was sweet and captivating. Berry really made me feel for the characters and the environment they live in.
I will say that the characters seem rather lacking in some sense. Collette, the Belgian singer, uses French intermittently, much like a cheesy foreign character would on a TV show. Aubrey is constantly talking about his mother and his hopes to make her proud, which is sweet but nothing new and gets boring towards the end. Hazel is your typical shy, closed-off girl who comes alive when she plays an instrument, and James is simply… average. I connected with each one nonetheless, despite their minor flaws. The gods are arrogant and funny, to put it simply, and I enjoyed their intermittent chapters as much as I enjoyed the actual stories.
Julie Berry surprised me with this one, and I’m excited to read her other books and see what they might have in store for me. This book was a perfect mix of love and war, and proves Aphrodite’s point successfully without drilling the theme into your brain. Anyone who is a fan of historical fiction or mythology, please take a look at this novel. Even if romance isn’t your cup of tea, the novel will blow you away.