3 out of 4 stars
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The Great War. The war to end all wars. WWI. No matter how you name it, the beginning of the 20th century changed the world forever. Not only did men die by the tens of thousands during single battles, but the face of warfare changed forever. From the gentlemanly way of conducting war to heavy artillery, poison gas, and the atrocities of trench warfare, it would never be the same again. Where I've Been by Dan Heiser is a historical fiction that tosses the reader into the midst of one of humanity's darkest times.
This book follows Edward Poole, a resident of the village of Bourne (England), during World War One. Edward just turns eighteen and is headed to enlist as a pilot to fight for king and country in the war. As he shows up on his beloved horse, he is convinced to sign on as a member of the cavalry instead. Before he knows it, Edward finds himself in the trenches of France defending the city of Arras against the onslaught of the German army. You'll have to read the rest of this book to see how Edward fares during these hostile times, to see the relationships he builds, and the pains he suffers.
As a short historical fiction novel, Where I've Been holds up quite well in the eyes of this reader, who frequently delves into the pages of this time period. Dan Heiser has created a believable cast of characters that embark on adventure and hardship during The Great War. The author captures extremely well the sentiment on the home front, some of the sufferings on the front lines, and even touches on some of the facets of leadership. The book, despite its length, manages to touch on several different aspects of the war: the feeling of adventure at the beginning, excitement before a battle, the futility of the endeavor, and even the feeling of survivor's guilt despite having done your best. Very poignant interludes on the home front were particularly powerful as well, especially one that featured the "Order of the White Feather." I think what I liked the best about this book was that it touches on a trade that you rarely see featured in the annals of WWI literature: the cavalry. For the ground battle, the infantry is often the unit of choice for an author. I liked how Mr. Heiser took this opportunity to feature the relationship between a soldier and his horse throughout the novel.
Unfortunately for the author, in the context of this review, WWI is well covered throughout the pages of literature. While reading this novel, I couldn't help but think of the other great books of the era and what they brought to the pages that this book didn't. The issues that I have with Where I've Been stem less from what was written in the book and more from what is missing. The battle scenes in the book were relatively few and far between (one thing I usually "enjoy" in war literature), it only barely outlined the absolute atrociousness of the trenches, and it failed in conveying much of the terror these men felt on a daily basis. In fact, it seemed to almost trivialize a night before a battle, suggesting even that a unit could take off to a pub and a have a few drinks prior to the fight. As a standalone novel, without having been exposed to the myriads of books (like All Quiet on the Western Front ) and movies highlighting this time period, I likely wouldn't have noticed these minor outliers. But what I liked least about this book is that it didn't go deep enough into the topics of importance; the battle scenes, the injuries, the hardships, or the day-to-day life in the trenches were only tangentially mentioned.
Despite some of the criticisms above, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I found the characters engaging, the scenery vibrant, and the plot following Edward Poole inherently realistic. For that reason, I have no problem giving this book 3 out of 4 stars. As an avid reader of war literature, I am forced to take away one measly star when comparing it with the currently available historical fiction dealing with WWI. That being said, I 100%, fully recommend this book to anyone who loves reading the genre and enjoys a short novel about The Great War. If you have no interest whatsoever in WWI or historical fiction, you can probably skip this one.
Where I've Been
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