A sweeping, multi-layered romance with a divine twist, by the Printz Honor-winning author of The Passion of Dolssa, set in the perilous days of World Wars I and II.
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.
It’s 1942 when Aphrodite narrates the two love stories – with help – to her husband Hephaestus and lover Ares, as an example of how immortals simply cannot love the way mortals do. Let’s talk about the two love stories separately.
James & Hazel – It’s 1917. James meets Hazel in London a week before he’s about to enlist in world war I and there are sparks right away. Both of them are starry eyed teenagers, wholesome and innocent. What follows is a an adorable courtship! But there’s angst too. The well-mannered and honorable James is turned into a ruthless sniper by the war while Hazel joins YMCA as a musician to contribute however she can. The way both of these characters are forced to grow up and change over time was both heartening and heartbreaking to see. Their story had oodles of cuteness, romance and just the right amount of angst. Also, Hazel might be my favorite character in this book.
Collette & Aubrey – Collette is a Belgian who joined the YMCA after losing her family and her beau in an attack on her hometown. Aubrey is part of an All-Black American troop serving in France. She has the loveliest voice and he is a self-proclaimed Jazz king. I loved how Aubrey is the cocksure and yet refined complement to Collette’s cool aloof self. My heart ached as much for Collette who has lost everything to the war as it did for Aubrey who has the hardest time as a black soldier. But when together, my heart couldn’t handle their cuteness!
I was charmed by both these couples. Even though, James and Hazel’s romance just felt a little more well-developed to me, I swooned right along with Aphrodite equally over James and Aubrey. The author succeeded in making me root for both these couples. I wanted them to have their happy endings!
But this book isn’t only about the romance. I loved the friendship between Collette and Hazel. I was heartbroken by the blatant racism the black soldiers had to face, and how hard it was for Collette and Aubrey to find acceptance as an interracial couple. This book also deals with mental illness, depression and death.
It’s always great to find a story with a well-developed plot and consistent characterization, but then the author had to add Greek mythology to bind together the whole thing and that makes for brilliant story-telling!