Review: Heroes for Ghosts by Jackie North

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HEROES FOR GHOSTS is a novel I will certainly re-read again, and again. And each time I go back, like the character Stanley, I know I’ll find more…

What can I say that will do justice to the tremulous innocence, the staggering sorrow, the poignance and horror and bright love that author Jackie North captures in this book? 

The novel, briefly, recounts a kind of time travel, a variation of  “Groundhog Day” or “Edge of Tomorrow.” Someone is caught in a time loop that seems to repeat endlessly, except that each iteration is subtly changed. In this story, the one trapped is a WWI soldier, a young idealist named Stanley.

On a suicide mission to save the 44th Battalion mired in the trenches, Stanley is overcome by mustard gas, and he dies. Except that he doesn’t. He awakens in the twenty-first century, found by a researcher named Devon. It seems that Devon is writing his thesis on—wait for it—the history of the 44th Battalion in 1916.

No spoilers from me! This is a deft and tight drama and a throat-tightening love story that held me almost breathless. I just want to praise the quality of writing—the way North seems to have morphed into a doughboy, smelling the stink of death, feeling the suck and gurgle of the mud, hearing the reedy larks singing in the silence between weapon bursts and the sizzle of exploding schrapnel. This is unbelievable wordcraft, a riveting tale of love and war.

The poignance of the men’s love affair is made the more tender not in spite of, but because of, the brutality and finality of war their love is wrapped in, like barbed wire snagging a delicate bird, in a time when “it was always raining, and the sky was the color of mud.” 

A sensational novel, Jackie North. I cannot give it enough glittering stars.

5 purp stars


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Watch for Jackie’s interview on this blog, coming soon.

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