Let them start their dreadful wars, let destruction rain down, and let plague sweep through, but I will still be here, doing my work, holding humankind together with love like this.
–Aphrodite, Lovely War
Julie Berry’s 2019 novel is, indeed, one of the loveliest tales penned about war. A historical fiction book that has garnered numerous awards, including the 2020 Golden Kite Award for Young Adult Fiction, Lovely War follows four endearing protagonists and the two epic love stories that unfold between them. Berry’s novel is narrated by the goddess of love herself, with additional deities chiming in. As Aphrodite crafts tender romances between Hazel and James, Colette and Aubrey, Ares’s Great War threatens to tear relationships and nations apart.
Berry’s brilliant decision to weave mythology into both love and war elevates this story to an extraordinary one. By including immortal characters among Lovely War’s cast—from a lovelorn love goddess to a gentle god of the dead—Berry presents a portrayal of world war unlike any other. Lovers of historical fiction will be richly satisfied, while Greek mythology enthusiasts will find themselves deftly drawn into the tale’s compelling characterizations of familiar godly figures.
It is particularly lovely to observe these kindlier deities orchestrate bonds between a quartet of mortal protagonists, which showcases Berry’s mastery of interwoven characterization. Hazel meets James mere days before his deployment, and a budding romance forms—nudged along by a matchmaking goddess. Hazel befriends fellow YMCA volunteer Colette, a gifted Belgian singer, and Aubrey, a Black soldier known as the Emperor of Jazz, through the god of music’s influence. Meanwhile, Aphrodite can’t resist helping Colette and Aubrey discover the spark of romance that burns between them. As relationships are tested by the tumultuous backdrop of World War I, Berry does an excellent job of investing readers in the fates of her fully-dimensional characters.
While the relationships formed within Lovely War are delightful, this novel is not solely a fluffy love story—or two. The tale of Hazel, James, Colette, and Aubrey is a testament to the strength of the human spirit. Berry does not shy away from underscoring the grittiness of war, nor does she omit the realities of trauma and racism. The thoughtful, raw depictions of these heart-wrenching experiences are among the most poignant passages of Lovely War. Berry has poured much research and care into its pages; be sure to examine the novel’s concluding historical note.
Through her lyrical style, Berry has fashioned nearly five hundred pages into a true page-turner, one that simultaneously shatters and uplifts a reader’s hope for humanity. The true artistry of Lovely War is found not only in its lineup of characters, but in Berry’s writing itself. With witty lines—“It was the dimples. Empires have swiveled on less.”—to gloriously picturesque—“The sky was pink, flush with promise, and golden sun glistened off filaments of ice webbing the world.”—Lovely War’s prose is consistently breathtaking. No wonder its narrators are divine.
-Anabella Schofield, Inscape Staff