In a remote hill farm in beautiful Scotland, Ellen and her father Duncan are enjoying a peaceful life away from the belching mills and hustle and bustle of the growing towns. In time they’re joined by rugged farmhand Tom, come to lend some muscle to Ellen’s ageing father, who has begun to find sheep farming hard to manage alone. Almost inevitably romance grows between Ellen and the new arrival but once married however, Ellen discovers that Tom has a brutish side to his character. As war in Europe spreads, she begins to dream of him leaving for the trenches as a way for her to escape.
Even with Tom fighting abroad however, the family can not hide from the realities of war as a group of POWs are brought to their valley to build a reservoir. And amongst the men, sworn enemies and shunned by all the locals, Ellen finds a gentler heart that she finds difficult to resist…
First of all I’d just like to extend a massive thanks to Head of Zeus for allowing me to review this book. I’ve been on a bit of a historical fiction kick recently so when I was approached to review it, I jumped at the chance. It helped that the subject line in the email said it was heartbreaking.
I’m a sucker for pain.
And let me tell you…it was worth every painful moment that made me want to hate this book and throw my kindle out of the window in a storm of tears.
Yates’ newest work is set in the highlands of Scotland on a remote sheep farm, right in the midst of the First World War. Our main character is Ellen, a young woman who lives with her aging father and gets a little too involved with their new shephard Tom. And when I say gets a little too involved, I mean that she lands herself in a whole heap of trouble and has to marry Tom. I’m going to be honest here, I despised Tom from the moment I first met him – there was just something terribly off about his character, the sort of young man who comes across as slimey – and my hatred for him only got worse after he married Ellen and shipped himself off to fight in the War.
Poor Ellen finds herself stuck in a violent marriage with a small child so is it any wonder that she wants to find happiness elsewhere?
With Tom away fighting in France, Ellen ends up spending time with a young German POW. This young man is sweet and kind, everything that Tom isn’t. And you can really see the differences between the two men when Tom returns from the Front. He’s brutish and violent, affected by his time in the trenches (which I’ll be honest, I did feel very sorry for him at this point. I’ve studied the First World War in some details and the effects of shell shock are horrendous) Ellen’s loyalties are completely torn and as you read, you can literally feel her confusion and her pain over it all. She’s married and has fallen out of love with her violent husband, but she knows she has to remain loyal to him. Yet at the same time she’s fallen head over heels in love with a man who is supposed to be the enemy.
This book is seriously gripping and I couldn’t put it down no matter how much I wanted to at times. Yates’ writing really hooks you and reels you in, her characterisation of these people practically consuming you. It’s not often that a writer can make you despise and love a character with just a flick of a page. And it’s even more rare to find yourself feeling sorry for, and crying over, a character who has just been a massive arse for the whole novel.
If you like painful romance in your historical fiction, then this is the book for you. And trust me when I tell you it is painful. Very painful. The ending is so bittersweet that it leaves you feeling almost bereft – and Yates should be commended for that. This read is a gripping, fast paced page turner that truly takes you into the world these characters live in – I highly recommend it.