Will Aarons could just about make out the beaches of Normandy. As his ship approached, he already could see the billowing smoke; his first glimpse of the battlefield.
Yet in The Promise by Kathleen Harryman and Lucy Marshall, while the allied troops prepare for D-Day in one of World War II’s defining moments, the real battlegrounds are back in Whitby, England, where a cast of noble characters wages internal battles of the heart that are just as precarious.
Will Aarons, Jimmy Chappell and Rose Elliott are fast friends in the quaint village of Whitby. Jimmy loves Rose but understands that his love is unrequited because Rose loves Will. Jimmy responds to this regrettable situation with humility and class. In fact, when the two men join the military, Jimmy promises Rose that he will bring Will back to her safely. Rose, displeased as the two men volunteer for service, does not make their departure easy.
There is a fourth, more distant friend in the mix: the quiet Tom Armitage, a loner and farmer who, by his vocation, is exempt from military service. He volunteers anyway with his two friends, seeking a certain freedom from the farm since the suicide of his father. Alas, he is not accepted.
When a German fighter plane injures Tom on his farm, he is taken to the makeshift convalescent home where Rose works during the war. Fate and circumstance bring the two together again in a complex relationship that goes far beyond friendship.
While trying to sort out the love triangles and quadrangles, other fascinating relationships materialize on the home front. Most notably, Will’s sister Betty falls in love with a doctor with a past, and Jimmy’s mother with a sergeant returning from combat.
INTERNAL AND EXTERNAL BATTLES
The authors deftly bring you inside the heads of their characters, describing their thoughts, feelings and the conflicting decisions they face.
The writing is descriptive and poignant. For example, when Jimmy realizes that Rose is in love with Will, Rose internalizes the former’s torture: “I watched as he looked from Will to me. Saw the hurt that briefly fell across his face. In that moment, realization hit him … I looked away, unable to bear the pain so clear in his blue eyes … Despite the fact that his own heart hurt, there was something that told me he would always love me … He nodded at me, as though my thoughts had imprinted themselves upon him.”
The individual struggles haunting the residents of Whitby naturally don’t hold a candle to the trauma of battle. This juxtaposition especially succeeds when an injured, blind soldier advises Betty to go after the person she loves before she runs out of time: “When you’re laid in the dirt with a rifle in your hands, shooting at your enemy while your friends and comrades are dying all around you, it can put life in perspective quickly.”
That sober perspective on war is never lost in The Promise, as scenes shift to soldiers’ holes in the sand fighting for victory and survival on the beaches of Normandy. How that trauma shapes the various relationships is sincerely profound, to the point of moving readers to tears.
The Promise, a beautiful historical romance, frequently delves deeply into the human condition while orchestrating situations and emotions in an elegant fashion. As someone once said, “There is no glory to be found in war.” Yet, as Harryman and Marshall show us, there is much to contemplate in the written words surrounding it.
Learn more about Kathleen Harryman on her BookTrib author profile page.