Life-and-death struggle grips in last hours of first world war

John Millen
John Millen |

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Eleven Eleven

By Paul Dowswell

Published by Bloomsbury

ISBN 978 1 40488 2623 2

Paul Dowswell sets his exciting novel in the final hours of the first world war. The book's title comes from the momentous hour in history - 11 o'clock on November 11, 1918 - when the armistice, a military agreement, was signed to end four years of fighting in Europe.

The war had raged between the Allied forces of Britain, France and Russia, and soldiers of the Central Powers - the German, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires. The conflict cost the lives of more than nine million soldiers.

The greatest tragedy of the armistice was that the soldiers on the battlefields had no idea that war was about to end.

It is against this dramatic background that Dowswell sets his sad and shocking story. It follows the fortunes of three young soldiers as the final hours of the war tick down.

Will Franklin is an underage British soldier. He was determined to join the army and fight for his country, but wasn't old enough, so lied about his age. Still only 16, Will is now exhausted from marching, and also stunned by the horrific scenes he has witnessed on the battlefield.

Axel Meyer, also 16, is a novice German soldier, loyally fighting for the other side. He has yet to take part in armed conflict but has also seen the bloody cost of the war, and is confused as to how his mighty nation could possibly be losing.

The third lead character is 19-year-old American pilot Eddie Hertz. He is confident, optimistic and obsessed about becoming his country's best young flier; nothing will stop him fulfilling his dream.

Dowswell devotes the opening three chapters to setting the scene for each of the young men, starting with Axel.

The boys' three stories are cleverly woven together, and of course, their paths will cross. But this is war, after all: who will live, and who will die?

Dowswell is good at blending believable fictional characters with authentic historical details into a potent, gripping narrative.

Some aspects of the three teens' characters may seem a bit stereotypical at times, but there is a thrill and a truth that will keep readers hooked until the end.

While obviously very personal to the author, this story does not preach. It allows the readers make up their own minds about the meaning of war.

John Millen can be contacted at [email protected]