Set against the backdrop of the First World War and more specifically the Battle of Somme, Melanie Martin’s debut novel, A Splendid Boy, paints a familiar picture of star-crossed lovers trying to stay together as a major battle goes on around them. But, it’s a picture that gets lost in the war-time chaos.
Set between the years of 1914 to 1918 and in 1981, A Splendid Boy tells the story of Daniel Beresford, the son of a fisherman from Middle Tickle, Newfoundland, who has fallen in love with Emma Tavenor, the daughter of a local merchant who Daniel’s father is indebted to. When Emma’s father finds out about the romance, he gives Daniel an ultimatum: either he gives up Emma or he will call in all the debts Daniel’s family owes, leaving them in financial and personal ruin.
Daniel enlists in the war to help save his family and spare Emma’s feelings, but little does he know Emma will defy her father and follow him to Europe to serve as a voluntary aid worker.
While A Splendid Boy is rich in historic detail and gives a face to something that is over 100 years old, the story doesn’t seem to know if it wants to be about Newfoundland’s “lost generation” or a love story that happens to be set against war.
In the beginning, it appears Emma and Daniel’s romance will be the focal point, only to take a backseat once Daniel reaches training and later the trenches of France. Only briefly, especially when they are reunited, is the reader reminded their romance is a key aspect, instead of a secondary plot point as Emma and Daniel work in and around the front lines.
For those that like war-themed stories and don’t mind snippets of a love story, A Splendid Boy is a good read.