This book tells the story of ‘Wild’ Willy Fraser through the course of World War One. Rather like Bernard Cornwell’s Richard Sharpe series, Long has crafted an imaginary character who experiences most of the important bits of the entire conflict. We are with him before war is declared, and we stay with him (and a few other recurring characters, some fictional, some historical) through the horrors of the trenches to the plot’s resolution.
Through a complicated back story, William Fraser ends up fighting for the Belgian army where he meets his good friend, the recently married Claude Traverner. While they endure the bombardment of the revolutionary German shells, Claude tells William of his wonderful new wife. Predictably, Claude dies, leaving the photo of his wife and the woman herself to William’s protection. After more elaborate chance and destiny (not to mention a two year narrative jump!), William has assumed his friend’s identity and taken a position as a balloonist, one of the most dangerous roles in WWI. Then one day, the fate of Claude’s wife is suddenly in William’s hands, and he has to do whatever he can to save her.