Top ten reasons why historical fiction is better than history:
- #10: There is no history in the real world. (Be honest: has knowing or not knowing the date of the Peloponnesian Wars had the slightest impact on your daily life?)
- #9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2: Lies, damn lies, and history. The pyramids (mostly) were not built by Jewish slaves, there was no wooden horse at Troy, Columbus didn’t ‘discover’ America, the Pope isn’t infallible, George Washington didn’t chop down a cherry tree (plus he didn’t particularly want to revolt against England), Abraham Lincoln would have cheerfully not freed a single slave if it meant preserving the Union, Ghandi told his eighteen-year-old niece to sleep naked with him, Iraq didn’t have weapons of mass destruction, and Elvis is (probably) still dead.
- #1: Although humans appeared in history about 200,000 years ago, the earliest written records are only about 6,000 years old. That means that 97% of human history is unrecorded. Most of the other three percent could probably have stayed that way too.
So I hated history class. Hated it. I didn’t care about which order British monarchs or American presidents showed up in. I have absolutely no daily use for dates of wars or names of treaties. Basically, I loathed any form of history that forgot that the biggest part of the word is “story”.
And that’s why I love historical fiction and even biographies, where any historical facts you accidentally absorb are part of human stories and human reality. Those lessons from history that we’re doomed to repeat if we forget them? They aren’t about dates or treaties, they’re about the stories of real people and what happened to them.
In continuing his epic series, By the Hands of Men, author Roy M. Griffis uses his two protagonists to show us the world between the two World Wars, a Lost Generation cut off from its past, adrift in its present, and unsure of its future.
By the Hands of Men, Book Three: The Wrath of a Righteous Man
“And we thought the trenches were the pits of hell.”
“Hell does not appear to be limited in its ingenuity.”
Continuing the epic story of the “By Hands of Men” series, a man and a woman, torn apart by fate, forge their own destinies in the world after the Great War.
Escaping her enslavement in Russia, Charlotte Braninov fights to build a new life in London while the shadow of modern fanaticism looms over Europe.
Robert Fitzgerald faithfully serves the Crown in Africa until honor compels him to risk everything to overcome an ancient evil, only to discover that the greatest war rages within himself.
Book Title: By the Hands of Men, Book Three: The Wrath of a Righteous Man
Author: Roy M. Griffis
Genre: Epic Historical Fiction
Length: 335 pages
Release Date: May 16, 2016
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My Review: 5 stars out of 5 for By the Hands of Men, Book Three: The Wrath of a Righteous Man by Roy M. Griffis
All you young people who served in the war. You are a lost generation…You have no respect for anything. You drink yourselves to death.”—Gertrude Stein
Hemingway credits Gertrude Stein with naming their generation. They were the ones who came of age during the first World War, the Great War. And what was lost was a sense of direction, of being able to draw on the past for identity and guidance.
For American writers, this included a world of decadence, of the frivolous lifestyles of the very rich such as The Great Gatsby, but also the loss of innocence, and of the fiction that the American Dream was within everyone’s reach. For countries like England, it meant a generation literally lost, with over two million women more than men under age 45.
These are the themes of By the Hands of Men, Book Three: The Wrath of a Righteous Man, Roy M. Griffis’ epic World War I series, which sends lead characters Robert Fitzgerald and Charlotte Braninov on a search for connections to their pasts and their futures in a post-war world which has obliterated both.
This has become one of my favorite historical fiction series ever, but it is not a series where each book stands alone. If you haven’t had a chance to read the first two volumes, I urge you to do so, because the threads connecting them are carefully gathered and woven in. For example, in my previous review, I complained about a vignette in Book Two describing Charlotte’s interaction with a Jewish pawnbroker that I thought was only there to make a statement about aristocratic anti-semitism. In a similar way, as I was reading Robert’s various adventures in Shanghai and Africa, my first thought was that these were just padding to show what the rest of the world was like. I could not have been more wrong. Both threads play a critical role in this next volume.
In The Wrath of a Righteous Man, the Great War is over. Robert, recovered from typhoid, has left Shanghai, and is now bound for Africa. Charlotte escaped the the nightmare of death and torture that is the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia and—along with her few remaining friends—is on a boat bound for England. But she can’t allow herself to believe that the sailors around them have any genuine humanity, even when they take up collections to provide clothing and gifts for the tattered refugees. “It was almost enough to make the nurse believe in the possibility of the goodness of men. Almost.”
Instead, she puts her faith in the guns she hides under her dress, and makes almost a religious ceremony of cleaning them.
“Oddly, the thought of cleaning the pistols filled her with a joyous anticipation. And why not, she reasoned. They had saved her life and the lives of her companions. They gave her a kind of control over her existence which the Reds had conspired to take from her. No one would ever take that from her again.”
Back in England, Charlotte struggles to take care of her friends and connect with the people around her. But as fate sends her in search of the Jewish pawnbroker, Kamensky, she must travel to Paris. Despite leaving war and revolution behind, Charlotte imagines that she smells death and decay in the air everywhere she goes.
“Shoving her face into the opening, she inhaled deeply, and amid the scents of water and sewage and smoke, there was still the sickliness of decay. And why not? Millions, literal millions had perished in the Great War, many of them on this very soil. The cold, impersonal mechanism had done its mindless work, and beneath the mud, beneath the streets, the dead lay, mute testament to the blind machinery of the World.”
As Charlotte struggles to connect to the present, she slowly validates her affection and love for the people around her but at a cost: she must first release her ties to the people and memories that have gone before, including her memories of falling in love with Robert.
Meanwhile Robert has gone to Africa, where similar disillusionment awaits. He’s horrified to see the evidence of torture and death, the numbers of Africans with hands chopped off—standard punishment under the rule of King Leopold of Belgium. Robert, who saw his time in the trenches as supporting the “gallant” Belgians, is sickened by this further evidence that his war might not have been all that just. He’s sent from the Congo into Nigeria, where he serves with and comes to admire a former Boer soldier—and also learns first-hand about the atrocities on both sides of that war.
When his friend is killed by a sect of murderous religious zealots and slavers, Robert realizes that honor demands he take command of the native troops and fight their way through to punish the atrocities committed. After gruelling battles and losses, he finally succeeds in his campaign, capturing the leader of the slavers. But the final blow to Robert’s picture of himself as a soldier and an honorable man comes when British authorities release his captive because he is “useful” to them.
Robert takes shelter with friends of his fallen Boer comrade, and spends the next four years recovering.
“What can you do?” Uys asked him.
I can kill men, Robert thought. I can tie a cravat. I can pick a wine for dinner. “I can ride a horse,” he finally said.
In both Charlotte and Robert’s cases, their recovery of the ability to trust and even love is tied up with their relationship with animals. Charlotte and her friends have rescued a beautiful golden eagle and brought it with them from Russia. Robert works on a farm, first acquiring pets and then actively studying to become a veterinarian.
But other new forces again interfere. The fantastically wealthy American newspaper baron, Randolph Hearst, and his moviestar mistress, Marion Davies, come on safari and engage Robert’s veterinary services. He’s stunned to see their camp, lit up like “…something out of the Arabian Nights”, complete with generators, and guests donning formal dress for dinner.
The book ends on a pair of cliffhangers, as both Charlotte and Robert—still mourning their lost love—are faced with dangers from their past and both are forced to again move on.
I simply can’t say enough good things about this book. It’s a read for the long haul, with steady pacing, characters whose spirits are torn apart and slowly, painfully rebuilt. There is a supporting cast of three-dimensional characters who breath life and color into the tapestry. And there is the story itself, which is nothing more than an epic picture of a world between wars, as experienced on human scale through the two protagonists. The bare bones I’ve told here don’t begin to convey the wealth of detail and adventure that are woven into the twin stories of Robert and Charlotte, of what the war has cost, and of what they’ve each gained.
It’s an incredible achievement and my only complaint this time is that I want to know what happens next. I’m rooting for Robert and Charlotte, and my fingers are crossed that after all they’ve been through, the next and final book will bring resolution.
*I received this book for free from the publisher or author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.*