It is 1915. Sasha, only daughter of a renowned English doctor, longs to be a nurse, as her brother, Thomas, longs to be a doctor. Their father is opposed to both objectives: he thinks Thomas should sign up to "do his bit" in the war effort like his older brother, Edgar, rather than go to medical school, and he doesn't think Sasha could handle the gore of wartime medicine. He is also concerned because on a few occasions, Sasha has let slip that she has accurate premonitions of people's deaths. The first of these came when she was five. She has learned since then not to speak of this "gift" to anyone in her family, for fear of losing credibility, but keeps with her a book of Greek myths, in which the story of Cassandra helps her to validate her sense of her own gift/curse.

Sasha does persuade her father to let her try her hand in the hospital as a VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachments)--a minimally trained caregiver--but gets herself thrown out when it is found out that she has been commuincating with a shellshocked patient and also that she foresees patients' deaths. The people around her are afraid of her powers. So she runs away to the front, looking for her brother, Thomas, who keeps appearing in a dream with a bullet whizzing toward him.

An eccentric young soldier who works as a courier appears to have a gift similar to her own. He goes AWOL with her to the place near the Somme where her brother's unit is fighting. When she finally locates Thomas, he is determined to return to the fighting, but, as she understands what mass slaughter is afoot, she shoots him herself to wound him, so he can't return. This surprise ending works to cap the various questions the book raises about how desperate times call for desperate measures.


This gripping story works because its rootedness in history aptly counterbalances the paranormal, coincidental events that move it toward the fantastic. Sasha is a sympathetic and believable character. Her father's sternness and her mother's timidity bespeak common attitudes of the time, but they are not fully developed characters; the real drama lies in Sasha's interior life, her wrestling with what to do with what she knows, her love for her brother, and her odd, unromantic, desperate connection with a disenchanged soldier who shares her gift of occasional foreknowledge. The book raises a number of interesting questions not only about the role of dreams, hints, guesses, and premonitions, but also about how the terms of the social and familial contracts change in times of war, and specifically, how it is incumbent upon those who seek to be healers and peacemakers to act in the face of immense pressures to participate in slaughter.


Random House (Wendy Lamb Books)

Place Published

New York



Page Count