In love on a brutal battlefield
(Viking £14.99, 400 pp) ALICE WINN’s devastating debut will smash your heart to smithereens. It opens in 1914, on the eve of the Great War, at a public school in the English countryside.
Amid the comradeship and calculated brutalities of the boarding school, strong, moody Henry Gaunt falls in love with poetic Sidney Ellwood, who fears his feelings for Gaunt remain unrequited.
It’s an overwhelming passion that is radiant with possibilities and danger, and Gaunt will do almost anything to escape it. Badgered by his mother and sister to sign up to prove his loyalty to Britain, half-German Gaunt is sent to the Front, described with visceral, enervating horror by Winn, and is terrified when Ellwood swiftly joins him.
As thousands of young men die in the most horrific of ways, Gaunt and Ellwood attempt to survive the slaughter and keep their love alive.
RIVER SPIRIT by Leila Aboulela (Saqi £16.99, 320 pp)
IT’S the 1880s in Sudan and the world is about to be upended for Akuany, the river spirit of this captivating novel. Her father is killed in a raid, and she and her brother are rescued by Yaseen, a merchant.
Their destinies are forever entwined in the tumultuous years that follow, as a religious uprising turns into a bloody war, with the self-proclaimed Mahdi, the prophesied redeemer of Islam, as its militant leader.
Through a compelling chorus of voices — from Akuany, who is sold into slavery and renamed Zamzam, to Yaseen, who becomes a scholar and a Mahdi dissenter imprisoned for his views, to Musa, an uneducated fighter in Mahdi’s army, and General Gordon, an advocate of colonial rule — Aboulela unspools the fraught story of Sudan, as freedom and faith do battle.
CLYTEMNESTRA by Costanza Casati
(Michael Joseph £16.99, 480 pp)
COSTANZA CASATI’S debut is a blaze of a novel, fiery and furious — and alight with murderous revenge.
It retells the story of Clytemnestra, decried in the Odyssey as the weak and faithless killer of her second husband, Agamemnon, Greek commander in the Trojan War.
Like Madeline Miller and Jennifer Saint, Casati offers the female perspective on the old, patriarchal tropes of the Greek myths.
Clever Clytemnestra has a warrior’s spirit, but she’s also graced with empathy and abiding affection for her first husband and their child.
When they’re killed in a coldblooded power play by Agamemnon, who Clytemnestra is forced to marry, she recognises that ‘heroes like him are made of greed and cruelty; they take and take until the world around them is stripped of its beauty’ — and vows to take vengeance.