Friday, January 6, 2017

At the Edge of the World (Jean-Vincent Blanchard)

At the Edge of the World by Jean-Vincent Blanchard documents the first century of the French Foreign Legion, from its founding in the 1830's under a French king to its use as a force helping the French Republic expand throughout North Africa in the years after World War I.  It circles largely around Louis Herbert Gonzalve Lyautey, who rose through the ranks of the French Army to command several missions for the Foreign Legion in various French colonial military campaigns in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

A scholarly work, Blanchard spares little detail in the inner workings of the French Foreign Legion and how it's uniquely made up of both French citizens and foreigners who are willing to serve and fight for France in foreign lands.  The book as a whole, while solid and well-grounded from a historical standpoint, did not captivate me as much as other historical military books of the past have.  It comes across quite wonky and scholarly, lacking the ability to captivate this reader at several points.  

Blanchard also focuses much of the book on the French Foreign Legion’s impact in Morocco and Southeast Asia; this comes at the expense of covering its contributions and impact on World War I.  The author’s focus was clearly on French colonialism and the French Foreign Legion’s contribution to those efforts; however, skipping over a major global conflict seems inappropriate in telling the full story of this outfit of French fighters.


Thursday, January 5, 2017

How Will I Know You? (Jessica Treadway)

Jessica Treadway’s How Will I Know You? has a simple whodunit premise: a teenage girl has been murdered.  Joy was found close to a pond in the woods, presumed drowned but actually strangled.  Treadway succeeds in developing the suspense this type of book needs, until what really happened is finally revealed in the last few pages.

 The actual narrative is told through four different perspectives: Harper (Joy’s best friend), Susanne (her mother), Martin (the man accused of her murder who is also having an affair with Susanne), and Tom (a rescue diver and the son-in-law of the town’s police chief).  If done poorly, this style of storytelling can distract from the cohesiveness of the book, but Treadway does it very well.  She also effortlessly goes back and forth in time.  What happened before the murder to lead up to it, and what are the repercussions to everyone involved following the tragedy?

How Will I Know You? was definitely a solid 4 until the ending, which I found disappointing and unsurprising.  However, 95% of the story is very suspenseful, so I’m going to split the difference for a 3.5.