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Lovely War by Julie Berry

“Lovely War” by Julie Berry is listed as a historical fiction and teen romance novel, yet it is so much more than meets the eye. The name itself is but a mere suggestion to the heart-wrenching tale that unfolds in just 480 pages. “Lovely War” follows the story of how Aphrodite jumps back 30 years in time to tell a tale of romance during the Great War, in an attempt to explain to her husband why love and war are eternally attracted to each other. The first couple is introduced at the zenith of World War I, when James, a newly minted English soldier, catches sight of Hazel, a shy Englishwoman who volunteers her talent at playing the piano as her only way of helping the soldiers; their romance is initiated with help from Aphrodite. And in between all that, Apollo starts the story of Aubrey Edwards, a gifted musician who faces racism as a soldier of the all African-American 15th New York Infantry. He stumbles upon Colette, a talented, Belgian singer who has already suffered from heartbreaking tragedy; the two turn out to be an inseparable yet unthinkable pairing for their time. The fates of the two couples eventually collide as a remarkably told saga of romance and action that compels readers to turn page after page after page.

There were three main reasons why I couldn’t keep this book closed at night. At first, I checked this story out from the library because I saw it on an article I read on the best young adult novels of 2019. What intrigued me after reading a few chapters, and what forced me to finish the book in just a few days, is the way Berry was able to mix two completely different worlds into a novel that makes perfect sense as you read it. Rather than just writing a romance novel, Berry created a beautifully emotional and thought-provoking novel by combining the tale of four lovers during World War I together with the well-known love triangle within the gods: Aphrodite, her lover Ares, and her husband Hephaestus. Perhaps my favorite aspect of this novel was the involvement of the gods, and how Ares, Apollo, and even Hades join Aphrodite in telling their own parts of the couples’ stories and interject in between with witty remarks that remind readers of their presence.

Berry’s usage of all four gods’ perspectives not only makes the story more engaging but also works as a way of manipulating the readers’ emotions. Apollo and Aphrodite never worried me, but when Ares started his part of the tale I would hold my breath anticipating yet another bloody war scene. And even more nerve-wracking was whenever Hades appeared; I would close the book in fear of reading on and pray that the couples would not be the ones to die this chapter.

Apart from that, the endings are also something of wonder. While the story of the two couples ends in a fairly predictable yet pleasing way, the real ending is a major plot twist that I did not expect in the least bit. It is a good surprise, and one that I think will delight readers of greek mythology and even readers who are not interested in the tales of the gods.

As a whole, “Lovely War” is one of the best novels I’ve read, and I have virtually no complaints about it. The author does a great job of entertaining readers with a romance/historical fiction and at the same time educating readers about the serious issues of racism, women’s roles in society and World War I as a whole, while also teaching readers about the transcendent power of love.

Thank you,
Angela Li