Today’s review is all about No Man’s Land by Simon Tolkien.
No, don’t do a double take, that last name should be familiar.
Simon Tolkien is indeed the grandson of J. R. R. Tolkien, billed as the ‘father’ of the modern fantasy literature.
If you’ve read my blog in the past, you know how apprehensive I am when reading within a family of authors, case in point my review of Joe Hill’s The Fireman. However, I am always willing to eat my own words, so to speak, and as such, I figured I would give this novel a chance.
Did I enjoy No Man’s Land? Keep on reading to find out my thoughts and opinions.
From the slums of London to the riches of an Edwardian country house; from the hot, dark seams of a Yorkshire coal mine to the exposed terrors of the trenches, Adam Raine’s journey from boy to man is set against the backdrop of a society violently entering the modern world.
Adam Raine is a boy cursed by misfortune. His impoverished childhood in the slums of Islington is brought to an end by a tragedy that sends him north to Scarsdale, a hard-living coal mining town where his father finds work as a union organizer. But it isn’t long before the escalating tensions between the miners and their employer, Sir John Scarsdale, explode with terrible consequences.
In the aftermath, Adam meets Miriam, the Rector’s beautiful daughter, and moves into Scarsdale Hall, an opulent paradise compared with the life he has been used to before. But he makes an enemy of Sir John’s son, Brice, who subjects him to endless petty cruelties for daring to step above his station.
When love and an Oxford education beckon, Adam feels that his life is finally starting to come together – until the outbreak of war threatens to tear everything apart.
With its 566 page count, No Man’s Land by Simon Tolkien has been a foreboding presence on my shelf for quite some time. As a lover of fantasy, I am no stranger to hefty books, however, my war novels have never quite reached such thickness, which in turn made me a little apprehensive of picking this up. I am able to admit though that each of the 500 plus pages was necessary for Tolkien to make the novel as immersive as possible.
This novel has a way of touching on some of the most important events in Britan during the 20th century, all while making them accessible to a wide variety of readers. From the suffragettes to the labour strikes to the outbreak of World War I, Tolkien has a way of describing each event with such knowledge that I almost forgot that I was reading a work of fiction.
Particularly, Tolkien’s descriptions of World War I were rather reminiscent of his grandfather’s epic battle descriptions found in The Lord of the Rings. In my opinion, it shows that Tolkien is both paying homage to his grandfather, while also cutting a path for himself in the literary world.
Another parallel I found between Simon and J.R.R.’s writing is that neither has qualms with introducing the reader to characters they grow attached to, only to kill them in the most brutal of ways. Given that the majority of this novel takes place during the Battle of the Somme, I had fully prepared myself for more than one character death. And yet, Tolkien had a way of shocking me with unforeseen circumstances for more than one of his characters, making the backdrop of war even more brutal.
Adam was a well-written character. He grew and changed through out the course of the novel, both because he grew from a boy to a man and also because of the situations he was thrust into, making him my favourite character of the lot. I also enjoyed reading from the perspective of Brice, the spoiled younger son of Lord John. Tolkien had a way of making me feel exactly the way I need to in regards to Brice, and by the end of the novel I couldn’t help but feel satisfied with his ending.
My only criticism of this novel comes in the last 25 pages or so. As I understand it, Tolkien took inspiration for No Man’s Land from the life of J. R. R. Tolkien. When it came time for Tolkien to explore his characters love of writing, to me, it almost seemed like an after thought, something to put at the end of the novel just to remind the readers of who the character of Adam is based on.
Overall Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.