Friday, April 6, 2018

Review of War of Loyalties

Readers of this blog will have noticed a number of different posts related to this recently-published World War I spy novel, including a nice behind-the-scenes look at the real history that shaped the fiction.  But after reading it, what was my impression?

I greatly enjoyed War of Loyalties.  Because of the mystery/spy nature of the book, I cannot really attempt a spoiler-free plot summation.  A review with spoilers would destroy much of the book’s suspense, as the plot revolves around finding which neighbors are German traitors and which are loyal.  Neighbors is used in its exact sense, as almost all of the characters are located in the small town of Folkestone, England.  Spies and counter-spies rub shoulders and there are complex relationships between the characters.  Sometimes all is not as it seems, but that is as far as I dare go when discussing the plot…

Two aspects of this book were especially pleasing to me, and all the more so because they are usually missing in most fiction.  These are the careful attention paid to history, and the loving depictions of the simple pleasures of life.


This is a book that is firmly rooted in its early 20th Century setting.  In fact, an appendix includes a bibliography of sources used to recreate the past for this novel.  Important victories or defeats in Flanders are fodder for the newspapers and discussed by the characters as we might discuss the latest policies of the president.  The imminent Russian collapse causes the Allied characters to worry and accelerate their efforts.  One character is distributing an anti-war magazine called The Masses (a fictional magazine, but clearly a Bolshevik publication).   Rather than attempt to categorize all of the history, I will direct your attention to an exclusive interview with the author in which she highlights some of these details.

A Webley Revolver
As befits a spy novel, most of its characters are armed.  Their weapon of choice is a Webley revolver, which seemed slightly repetitive until I dug a little deeper.  I found that Webley was a leading producer of British handguns, and supplied official service revolvers to the British Army for decades.  The Illustrated Book of Guns listed 17 separate models which were all produced before 1918, including some (like the Mark III) designed and marketed specifically for civilians. 

Love of the Ordinary 

It is rare for a work of fiction to be so concerned about historical details, but it is even rarer for it to have a love of the ordinary.  What exactly does this mean?  And how can a spy story—by definition beyond the everyday experience of most of us—celebrate the joys of ordinary life?

C. S. Lewis described this love of ordinary experiences in his autobiography Surprised by Joy.  “The very qualities which had previously deterred me from such book Arthur taught me to see as their charm.  What I would have called their ‘stodginess’ or ‘ordinariness’ he called ‘homeliness’—a key word in his imagination.  He did not mean merely Domesticity, though that came into it.  He meant the rooted quality which attaches them to all our simple experiences, to weather, food, the family, the neighborhood.”  (Surprised by Joy, pg. 146)

Lewis’s books are full of this love of the ordinary, simple pleasures of life, such as the delicious dinner the Pevensies enjoy at the Beavers’ house.  I was pleased that War of Loyalties is full of this love of simple joys as well.   It breathes throughout the entire book in descriptions of tea and wood fires, in the strength and support that Charlotte Dorroll offers to her husband Ben.  But this concept comes into sharpest focus when Benjamin Dorroll is staying at the house of old family friends, the O’Seans.  The description of their familial loyalty and comfortable friendship in the midst of war and spies and tangled loyalties is well done.

If you can obtain this book, I would highly recommend it for any reader.  An interesting, fast-paced story is combined with historical details and a love for domesticity.  This book is highly recommended.

5/5 stars.


  1. Thanks so much for this kind review, Jordan! I really enjoyed your thoughts as a serious historian (I hope to be more accomplished in that regard than I am now as I continue to write). I really appreciated your paragraph about the Webleys too--by the by, do you have other gun models you would recommend for the characters as I work on Book 2?

    The joys of domesticity make up my favorite parts of the L.M. Montgomery books, not to mention real life, so I'm extremely glad they came across well! and I try to include them in blog posts and stories as I can, just for the fun of it. (It took WoL a long time to find a happy balance between the two.)

    I'm so glad you enjoyed the story, and thanks so much again for your review!

  2. Definitely picking this up! Sounds like a great, refreshing read.