Reviewed by Lauren K.
Gifts of War, by Mackenzie Ford, begins in the trenches of WWI, right at the start of the famous Christmas Day Truce of 1914. Ford puts the reader in the middle of the bloodshed, and then lightens the scene with the tentative troops climbing out of their foxholes for a temporary truce. It is here in the field that the reader is introduced to Captain Henry “Hal” Montgomery, the novel’s narrator; Hal makes the acquaintance of his German equal, Wilhelm, during this truce. The novel takes a romantic turn as Wilhelm entrusts Hal with a photograph of himself to present to Sam upon his return to England – a token to let her know he has never forgotten her.
Hal is injured not long after the truce and returns to England. He decides to fulfill his promise to the German, assuming he is lost to the war for years, if not forever. Finding Sam, Hal is so mesmerized by her beauty that his mission suddenly seems insignificant, and he abandons it for his own selfish reasons. Sam and Hal begin a relationship of sorts, he meets her young song, who surely must be Wilhelm’s, and Sam tells Hal about her torrid affair with him. Through all of this, Hal remains silent about the picture in his wallet.
A strong connection or even an interest never formed for me regarding this relationship or Hal. I could not get over the secret he was hiding. And the fact that he let Sam continue on without revealing the story, even watching her agonize over it, broke my heart and made me feel cold and indifferent towards Hal. Sam, I feel was not developed enough. Yes, she was the girl everyone loved, but there was not really much insight provided to her as a person. Hal’s sister, Izzy, was the most fun in the novel and I wish her character was expanded on and a little more developed. Instead, she is the witty and cute little sister of the narrator, going off to be a wartime nurse. Izzy’s quick humor spills off the pages and when Ford writes of her interactions with Hal, it is the only time that Hal is an enjoyable character.
In the midst of his personal issues, Hal never forgets Wilhelm and his broken promise. As the war progresses, Hal becomes deeply involved in intelligence work. This part of the novel is exciting, even though the situations are a bit hard to keep track of at times. After tragedy strikes close to Hal, and the war comes to a halt, he meets Wilhelm by chance in Paris. The embodiment of his broken promise and lies is standing face to face with him.
The end of Gifts of War is a bit confusing. It feels almost as if Ford tries to wrap it up, yet in attempting a clean wrap, the ending does not bring everything full circle, but instead raises more questions and leaves a lot unanswered. The book flows nicely, and is very well written. However, a lot of the book’s potential is lost on a narrator that is hard to sympathize with and an unfulfilled love story.
Lauren Kirk is a freelance writer and editor. In addition to working on her own personal writing, editing Messy Magazine, and writing for multiple sites, Lauren is also currently pursuing her MFA in English. More work can be found at : messymagazine.org and goldiesays.wordpress.com.