‘It’s only a century since the first world war came to an end. It’s easy to forget that the conduct of warfare was then still heavily dependent upon horses. Cavalry regiments still formed the backbone of the British army.
Bryn’s grandfather served in such a regiment and it is that fact that inspired her to write this epic tale. But she does not limit herself to the rigours faced by serving men. She takes a close look at the lives of those left behind in England. The older generation of men whose labours kept ‘the home fires burning’ and the women of all ages who shouldered the burden of clothing and feeding everyone whilst worrying about the fate of their young male relatives in far flung corners of the world.
Another factor that sets this book apart from many others set in World War I is the way it concentrates on an often forgotten theatre of war. This is important because the events that Bryn relates reverberate a century later. After describing pre-war rural life, with shades of Downton Abbey, the story moves to the period of training that volunteer soldiers underwent. This enables Bryn to introduce us to a romantic triangle as her protagonist, Bill, and a young woman, Martha, with whose family he is billeted, develop a fondness for each other that leaves him agonising about his espousal to his sweetheart, Florrie, in his home town.
The action then moves to the ill-fated expedition to the Dardanelles and, thence, to Egypt and the Holy Land. Through all the minor victories and set-backs that characterised these campaigns we see not only the suffering of the men but that of the horses. Copper, a horse belonging to Lady Alice, the daughter of the ‘big house’, is an important character in this story. Her suffering, and that of the other horses, will break your heart. Bryn has stated that she wept frequently whilst writing such scenes. It is that emotional engagement with the suffering of all her characters – back home in England the relationship between Florrie and her father goes from bad to worse to terrible – that makes Bryn’s writing such a roller coaster ride for the reader.
I’ve read several of Bryn’s books and am an unashamed fan. I had the privilege of access to an early draft of this one and found it to be the best yet. Because she is self-published, this book will not get the sales it so richly deserves. That is a shame because Bryn is, without doubt, one of the best writers of historical fiction writing in English today. In The Dandelion Clock you will not just read about the horrors of war, you will live them in all their stark reality.‘ -Goodreads
‘A man determined to keep his promises. A novel you will never forget
Rebecca Bryn has a consistent flair for scouring out your heart with her painfully honest accounts of heartbreak, loss and courage in the face of unspeakable horror, as I first discovered when reading Touching the Wire. I therefore should have known I would read much of The Dandelion Clock in tears, held to the insistent narrative by an aching empathy for all the people who came so vividly alive within its pages – only for some of them to become even more memorable by their tragic deaths. So often it was impossible to know what the eventual outcome for Bill and Florrie might be.
My grandfather came back from the front at the end of the First World War a changed man, so I was told. He took to drink and regularly beat his wife when he was drunk – something for which some of his seven children never forgave him. He would never talk about his experiences and unfortunately died of lung disease related to having been gassed in the trenches when he was only 63. I was 8 then, too young to know the questions to ask to unlock his trauma. Reading The Dandelion Clock answered some of those questions and renewed my connection with my grandfather, as well as bringing it home to me that many of those boys sent off to war were the same age as my three grandsons shortly going off to university.
Rebecca Bryn’s descriptions of place and of the appalling conditions suffered are masterful. Let me give you some examples: ‘September, and a crescent moon hung in a Turkish sky and shone on dead men.’ ‘He shivered. The moaning of the wind in the trenches wailed like the tortured souls of dead men.’ ‘Rolling, turf-covered downs bejewelled with wild flowers…’ ‘The sin of war spread out across the world to engulf him.’ There is page after page of descriptions that took my breath away, brought further tears, and made those foreign landscapes utterly real.
But not only is this a novel that focuses on the hardships, loss and love between comrades-in-arms in appalling circumstances. It also speaks of the experiences of the families left behind to wait, often in ignorance, for brothers, sons and sweethearts who might never return. Bill is a man determined to keep his promises – to Lady Alice whose horse, Copper is as precious to him as anyone, and who he is determined to bring back to England at the end of the war; and to the two very different women who capture his heart.
Poor Florrie – the woman he is promised to – suffers the fate typical of so many working class women at that time, locked into unrelenting servitude in a family with a brutish, abusive father, trying to survive and scrape a living while her brothers endure the terrors and wounds to mind and body inflicted by war. My heart felt full of sadness for her, and for the impossibility of her life. Would her relationship with Bill survive?
Towards the end of the novel Bill turns to the last remaining of his comrades and reflects on the experiences of the past four years. “Best not to dwell on it,” he says. “It’ll send you mad.” Rebecca Bryn has been brave enough to dwell on it, and to offer us the opportunity to immerse ourselves for a while on the shameful, pointless ‘sin of war’ as Bill describes it. Read this book because you will rarely read another that moves you in quite the same way. Some books are good. This one is great. The author’s best to date. Totally compelling and unmissable.‘ – Amazon