A Song for No Man's Land
A Song for No Man’s Land is the first in a planned series. Following the unwilling Welsh soldier Robert Jones and his strange guardian Bainbridge, this is a tale of WWI with a fantasy twist. Bainbridge meets Jones in a pub and pulls him away from a fight over money, gets him sobered up and off whiskey, and brings him into the Great War for Britain’s cause.
Jones is a stereotyped Welshman, drunk and cussing, while Bainbridge is a mystery—and yet he is simultaneously a stock mysterious character. Bainbridge is everything Jones isn’t. When readers meet Bainbridge, the implication of British smoothness, handsomeness, and intelligence is all there. He oozes mystery with his calm cigarette smoking and nonchalant manner.
The story is told from Jones’s point of view as if he is writing a series of diary entries or letters. In an author’s note, Andy Remic states he is editing out “fuck” because WWI soldiers did this self-censorship in their own letters and he was going for verisimilitude in the telling of this tale. It would have served the author to have also mentioned he would be using racial slurs as well. If Remic deems editing f-words down to a series of dashes doesn’t ruin the narrative, then surely he could have cut back on the times Germans are referred to as Huns.
In the opening scene readers meet the drunken Jones but the prose fails to deliver a hook. Instead, Remic drowns readers in too much desperate description like a first-year MFA student with an unedited manuscript. Then, weirdly, there’s very little (good) description anywhere else. Remic is repetitive in engaging the senses through his descriptions of the battlefield. Hopefully Remic’s editing skills improve as his series continues.
Jones and Bainbridge are never fully fleshed out—they remain shadow characters without real form or substance to them, even in their dialogue: They are indistinguishable from anyone else. The best character is the stock mysterious Bainbridge. Readers will want to know who he is and why he has bothered with Jones. It remains to be seen whether readers will truly be as disappointed as they likely will be once they get to the second in this series. As it stands, Bainbridge won’t appear in the second, but if Remic keeps along the lines of fantasy then there’s hope.
The plot is a bit of a disappointment. Jones is shot on the battlefield while trying to take the communications line with his fellow soldiers, and as he recovers in the hospital, he begins to have dreams of otherworldly creatures on the battlefield. Or are they his dreams? The way the story splits in the chapters between Jones’s reality and this child on the field dealing with monsters, it’s difficult to tell if Jones is dreaming, if he is the child and this is a metaphor, or if the child is a real character. This doesn’t become clear until closer to the end, and it would’ve been a more intriguing plot if the child and monsters were a metaphor for the PTSD soldiers suffered on the battlefield instead of a strange WWI fantasy.