It’s July 1914 and Belle Reilly is completely oblivious of the international train wreck that is about to devour her happy domestic sphere and the lives of millions. But this is not your average war story filled with the pitfalls of classic clichés.
Author Lesley Pearse’s twentieth novel, The Promise, has finally allowed her to indulge in her long-held passion for WWI. This combined with her extensive research has allowed her to construct a uniquely beautiful and distinct narrative.
“I wanted to write a fictional story illustrating the courage, hardship and sheer horror that ordinary people went through – not just the brave young men who went to fight under such appalling conditions, but about their women back home.”
Starting her writing career at the age of 49, her writing style is mature and well-developed. All of her books focus on a great variety of topics and themes but share a central thread of human endurance and self-determination.
One of the things I particularly love about The Promise is the inclusion of many different international forces. I think sometimes writers can become too fixated on certain nationalities’ involvements (be that British, American or German). Whilst the depth is good, and there is still a predominantly British focus here, it’s incredibly refreshing as a British reader to experience a wider range (the mention of the ANZAC or Canadian forces, for example).
Perhaps it might be cliché of me to say that this is not a story of war but of characters. But here’s the thing about clichés, as Khaled Hosseini skilfully puts in The Kite Runner, sometimes they’re dead on.
The Battle scenes are beautifully crafted – if you’re looking for Hollywood gore and senseless violence, then this book is not the one for you. But if you seek something honest and uniquely diverse then The Promise has so much to offer.
The involvement of female ambulance drivers was something I’d heard off, but never before had I really considered the full risks of what they or their male counterparts experienced. I felt it made an enlightening addition to a story full of surprises.
Belle’s vivacity was something I loved about the first novel and I’m pleased the author stayed true to that in this sequel. She has never been a character that would simply sit quietly at home entombed in self-pity. Instead, as is so wonderfully part of her design, she thrives on action – never shrinking from a skirmish. As a reader this aspect particularly makes the novel satisfying.
As mentioned previously, this is a sequel to Belle. However, the book stands alone perfectly well in its own right also. Any gaps from the previous story are filled in when encountered and as much as I loved the first novel – I find The Promise even more engaging and satisfying.
And for those of you, like me, who have read Belle – you can be assured that this sequel takes all the components and characters you loved from the original story and retains and develops them in a way that is superbly rewarding.
I eagerly anticipate getting my teeth into the third instalment of the Belle trilogy, Survivor, which is set against the backdrop of the London Blitz.
Published by Penguin, The Promise retails at £7.99.