reviews

A Song for No Man's Land (A Song for No Man's Land #1) by Andy Remic

Write on: Tue, 29 Dec 2020 by  in Gary's Reviews Read 2682

A Song for No Man's Land is the first in Andy Remic's novella trilogy of the same name. I saw it recommended on social media and was captivated by its hauntingly beautiful cover. Like a grimdark version of Michael Morpurgo's Private Peaceful. This, combined with an excellent blurb had me excited to read it. I have always liked the idea of blending World War One with fantasy. Unfortunately, A Song for No Man's Land did not live up to my expectations. 

It follows Private Robert Jones, a Welshman who volunteers for the Great War in order to escape his debts back home. He is joined by Charlie Bainbridge, a jolly giant of a man with a knack for fighting and with whom Jones forms a strong bond of brotherhood. We accompany them through the trenches on the front line during the Somme and later Passchendaele. Remic does a fantastic job of capturing the atmosphere, from the terror and tension of going over the top (or 'bags') to the frantic chaotic nature of war to the eerie silence of no man's land in the aftermath. 

There is a high degree of authenticity to make this a faithful historical work of fiction, including: locations, chronology of events / battles, weapons and even the slang used by Jones and the other soldiers. There are plenty of f-bombs as you might imagine would be the case from a bunch of men constantly facing death, but Remic adds a nice touch of replacing them with a simple '——' as soldiers in World War One often did when writing. There is also some homage paid to certain World War One poetry, such as Wilfred Owen's Dulce et Decorum Est, which I really liked. 

Remic gradually introduces the fantastical element over the course of the novella. The flashbacks are where the fantasy truly thrives as we follow a young Jones on his adventures through the deep forests of his childhood. He is hunted by shadowy creatures, which could be truly real or the imagination of a little boy. It is hard to tell. As the story progresses, we start to see these same creatures stalk Jones through the trenches and across no man's land. Again, it brings to question of whether or not these things are real or, in this case, the hallucinations of a shell-shocked soldier. I really like what Remic has done here. 

Unfortunately, I do have a number of grips with A Song for No Man's Land, the primary being what felt like far too little plot stretched across more pages than is needed. I believe every word should count when it comes to shorter fiction, be it a short story or a novella, but found some segments inconsequential to both the plot and the character development of Jones. I also found some segments repetitive. For example, I lost count of the number of times the characters fell in and out of consciousness. It worked well the first time, and the second, but the third, fourth and fifth times felt like overkill. 

Another issue I had was the constant switching between first person, third person limited and third person omniscient. This is not necessarily a bad thing but I found it works better in full length novels as opposed to a novella. The first person chapters serve as Jones' diary and this is when A Song for No Man's Land is at its best. Unfortunately, these engrossing chapters are broken up by third person chapters which are often when the action takes place. They are still enjoyable, the action visceral and vividly brought to life, but they are not as compelling as Jones' diary chapters. Also, there is random head hopping towards the end of the novella that doesn't feel necessary. Personally, I would have preferred if Remic had focused on one narrative style. 

Overall, this is a good read. A Song for No Man's Land is atmospheric, vividly captures the horrors of war, and has some moments of brilliance. However, both the plot and narrative style did not work for me. Of course, this is just my opinion and what did not work for me will no doubt work for other readers. I purchased the trilogy but feel no urge to continue with the sequel, Return of Souls, just yet.  

Gary

Gary is a small town Irishman with a love for all things historical and fantastical. He works as an English and History teacher at post-primary where he endeavours to instil and nurture a love for reading and writing in students. Tea is his weakness. Reading is his passion. His one goal in life is to buy a castle when he retires.