The Shadow of War by Stewart Binns

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The Shadow of War by Stewart Binns

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Luke Marlowe
Reviewed by Luke Marlowe
Summary: Most know the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand as the shot that began the First World War. A story of five different British communities, this fast moving, wide ranging book strives to show us how no-one was left untouched by the horrors of the Great War and how for these communities, it was the start of a time of love, betrayal, grief and tragedy.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 533 Date: July 2014
Publisher: Penguin
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9780718179977

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The Shadow of War is the first book in a sprawling series with a new book being released once a year for each year of the First World War. Binns writes about five British communities, all very different – an aristocratic Scottish family, a family of working class Welshfolk, a group of friends in a Lancashire factory town, a pair of Cockney soldiers, and Winston Churchill, alongside his wife Clemmie and various government figures. The groups interact at various points in the book, which leads to some very genuine and touching relationships forming, in particular the one between Margaret, a nurse, and Bronwyn, youngest daughter of the Welsh community.

Binns is probably best known as a historian, having produced the award winning Britain at War in Colour, and The Second World War in Colour documentaries, before becoming an author and achieving great success with his Making of England quartet – the first two of which I had previously read, and enjoyed. It’s extremely obvious that the author is also a historian – this book is not just very detailed, but snippets of information are fed into almost every paragraph. I found this rather overwhelming to begin with, and the style of the book is quite odd too – it reads almost like an adaptation of a documentary instead of the piece of fiction it is. With that in mind, I had rather a difficult time getting into the book, and the first hundred pages or so felt like quite a chore.

However, the characters in this book are so strong and likeable, that they quickly shine through and kept me turning through the rest of the tome at rather a rapid pace. Whilst the characters are very well written indeed – even characters who appear briefly have distinct characteristics (no doubt helped by the fact that they are often real life characters), the writing style of the book often left me feeling quite detached, and whilst the horrors of death and disease on the trenches left me shocked, I still felt more like a bystander than a riveted reader.

For those with a grasp of First World War history, moments in the book will both entertain and horrify – particularly jokes made by Churchill, and the stomach churning moment when the Lancashire men are encouraged to sign up for a Pals Company.

I’ll certainly read the other books in the series, although I can’t deny that I may borrow instead of buy, as these aren’t books I shall be rereading. However, Binns has crafted a moving and gripping tale that accurately portrays the horrific events that shook our country a hundred years ago. Heavy going at times, with a style that did leave me feeling detached and occasionally bored, with historical facts shoved in so often, it began to irritate. However, the excellent characters and overall heart shine through and save the book.

For more from Stewart Binns you might enjoy Lionheart. For another fictional look at this period, try Regeneration by Pat Barker.

Buy The Shadow of War by Stewart Binns at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Shadow of War by Stewart Binns at

Buy The Shadow of War by Stewart Binns at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Shadow of War by Stewart Binns at


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