After a brief hiatus, I’m back with more ammunition. Fresh out of quarantine I’ve literally spent all my time reading and watching “Bridgerton” season two, so you know what that means? A lot of content for our arts section that’s right. Here’s my deal, I find books from BookTok, and if I can get a copy through my dealer Jenny then I read it! This week’s victim: “Lovely War” by Julie Berry.
Based on the cover, since I do judge a book by its cover, I thought this was going to be another World War I or World War II retelling and I was hesitant. I finished “All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr earlier this semester and it took a lot out of me emotionally. Same with “Salt to the Sea” by Ruby Sepetys, which I adored, but still they are dense reads. And just maybe not the most uplifting stories to be reading when you’re sitting alone in your room for five days.
While, yes, “Lovely War” is a retelling of World War I, it puts a spin on it by having the reader see through the perspective of different Greek gods. A weird combination I admit, but perfectly executed by Berry. So get this: Aphrodite, Ares, Hephaestus, Apollo and Hades walk into a hotel room and Aphrodite tells two love stories from World War I.
Everyone knows Greek gods aren’t known for their fidelity to their partners, and Hephaestus—god of the forge and Aphrodite’s husband—has had enough of Aphrodite sleeping with his brother Ares—the god of war. Hephaestus confronts them in a hotel room and traps them in order to bring them to Mount Olympus to stand trial for being unfaithful. Aphrodite argues that instead of embarrassing themselves in front of everyone at Mount Olympus they have the trial in the hotel room. Hephaestus agrees to this. In her defense, Aphrodite does not deny that she has been cheating on him, but she argues that no one has ever loved her—despite herself being the goddess of love.
Ares and Hephaestus are both skeptical about what she has told them, since she is the most sought-after goddess so she surely must be loved. But Hephaestus lets her prove her point to show what love truly is through the story of four mortals: Hazel, James, Aubrey and Colette. The rest of the story is spent with Aphrodite narrating the two couples’ lives during World War I and the lengths they go to for each other. Hades—god of the dead—and Apollo—god of song—also come in to better tell parts of the story.
It is a heartbreaking story for Aphrodite as you realize she does not have the one thing she brings to everyone else. She acts as an invisible string throughout the story, weaving together the lives of the couples and letting their love be her impact. But it is something no one has ever felt for her. She tells the other gods that they can relish in what they make. Hephaestus can hold the swords he forges. Ares can participate in the war he incites. But she can never feel loved as she has made others love each other, since no one has ever listened to her. They believe the love she brings is trivial and pointless, but it isn’t.
But that doesn’t make her bitter; she enjoys what she does and she fights for others’ love to persist in spite of the way things are in the world. You grow to love James and Hazel and Aubrey and Colette, but Berry does a great job of always making you aware that while they’re the focus of the story they are not the ones telling it. While telling their stories, Berry weaves in themes of prejudice and trauma as the four cope with life during the Great War. We see how the beauty and innocence in the world can be stripped from people, but love can restore some of what is lost. Love brings out the best in the four individuals, and they find their strength in each other. It is not superficial or fleeting, but strong and resilient.
This book has easily become one of my all-time favorites. I love when authors put a creative twist on their narrative and I think having Greek gods tell this story is a really bold move that is blended perfectly. It reminds me of “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak by having this out-of-left-field narrator. It’s a bit of a longer read; I finished it in a day because I literally couldn’t go anywhere, so if you need a quarantine read this is the book for you. It is relatively uplifting at the end, so you don’t finish and feel completely emotionally destroyed. It is also a stand-alone book if you aren’t looking for the investment that comes with a series.
Lastly, I’ll leave you with my favorite quote: “Let them start their dreadful wars, let destruction rain down and let plague sweep through, but I will still be here, doing my work, holding humankind together with love like this.”
The 71/2 deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle
All the Light We Cannot See
The Firekeepers Daughter
The Night Circus
A thousand Nights
A court of Thorns and Roses
A court of Mist and Furt
A court of Wings and Ruin
A court of Frost and Starlight
A court of silver flames
The Invisible life of addie larue
We hunt the flame
We free the stars
The young elites
The rose society
The midnight star