e a m harris

Roaming the byways of literature

‘In Pale Battalions’ by Robert Goddard

0385339208Robert Goddard has written many books and has a large following who like his style and the twists and turns of his complex plots.

This book follows a similar pattern to many of his books — a secret from the past will finally be told. Characters go to great lengths to keep or uncover the secret concerned, and when they do the result is not what it seems.

This particular story has less obvious excitement and dashing around than some of his others, but the background is the First World War and there’s plenty of war and gore there for any book.

The story is told using flashback on flashback, but the stages are clearly marked and it’s easy to follow. The setting is that of the minor aristocracy from which class the main characters have sprung. As the life and mysterious death of Captain John Hallows are discovered by his daughter and grand-daughter, the number of memories and events that are not what they seem multiply.

Leonora Galloway, Hallows’ daughter, is seeking not only knowledge of her father, but also explanations for her own life and her bitter upbringing. Several times she seems to have the answers only to find another secret behind the first one.

In my opinion this is one of Goddard’s better books. With less high drama it is able to concentrate on subtle dangers and prices paid for knowledge. In particular, the author explores the parent/child relationship in various guises — natural, step, good, indifferent and actively wicked.

Any reader who likes a well-written tale with empathetic main characters and several twists in the tail should enjoy this.

The title of the book comes from a First World War poem by Charles Sorley which starts:

When you see millions of the mouthless dead
Across your dreams in pale battalions go,
Say not soft things as other men have said,
That you’ll remember. For you need not so.

Cover pic from Kirkus.

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