This was one of those books that I fell in love with as soon as I opened the front cover and read page one. As I read through more of the story I kept praying would never end. I deliberately read this book incredibly slowly just so I could truly enjoy and saver each moment. Now that I have finished it the only thing I want to do is open it and read it all over again.
The characters are superb. I loved and became so attached to them all but especially our protaganist Eric Foster / Erich Von Schellendorf. In the beginning of the story he is a lost young man who is struggling to find his own identity in a new country far away from the dreams of an overbearing father. He transfers to Heidelberg, Germany to pursue a new path in college which upsets his father who had dreams of Eric pursuing a career in law at Cambridge University in England. While in Germany Eric meets Gerdt who happens to be the son of a renowned and well-respected military hero. As the story unfolds Eric Foster embraces his mother's German heritage, changes his name to Erich Von Schellendorf, enlists in the German cavalry and completes the officer's program all in attempt to win the heart of Gerdt's sister Brigitte (Britt) and the respect of her father. I couldn't help but become painfully attached to everyone in the story. I loved reading every moment of Erich and Gerdt's friendship, Erich and Britt's relationship, the acceptance of Erich as their son by the baron and baroness (Gerdt and Britt's parents) and my heart broke reading about the collapse of the relationship between Erich and his family back home in England.
Then World War One begins. Erich is approximately 21 years old, an officer in the German cavalry, a young newlywed and is leading a cavalry regime into war against Russia. He is young and scared but trying so hard to be the strong and brave German soldier he has trained to be. He is trying to obey the German Officer's Code but he begins to question his career and his path in life. He is haunted by the image of his first kill and coming to accept the life he has built for himself.
I wept nearly inconsolably by the end of the book. I won't provide any spoilers but all of those characters I fell in love with broke my heart. I wanted Erich to have his happily ever after with his wife and brother-in-law who was also his best friend. I wanted his wife's parents to love him and his own parents and younger brother to accept him back into their own lives but alas, not all stories can have a perfect happy ending. It is an absolutely wonderful story however and I know it is a book I will read and re-read many times over. I recently learned that this is the first book in a series of books about the life journey of Erich Von Schellendorf and I am already looking to pick up book #2.
If you enjoy war-time historical fiction I highly recommend that you pick this book up.