Lovely War
by Julie Berry

Published: 2020-02-04
Paperback : 480 pages
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Read the critical darling that Kate Quinn, New York Times bestselling author of The Alice Network, called "easily one of the best novels I have read all year!" A sweeping, multi-layered romance set in the perilous days of World Wars I and II, where gods hold the fates--and the hearts--of ...
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Read the critical darling that Kate Quinn, New York Times bestselling author of The Alice Network, called "easily one of the best novels I have read all year!" A sweeping, multi-layered romance set in the perilous days of World Wars I and II, where gods hold the fates--and the hearts--of four mortals in their hands.

They are Hazel, James, Aubrey, and Colette. A classical pianist from London, a British would-be architect turned soldier, a Harlem-born ragtime genius in the U.S. Army, and a Belgian orphan with a gorgeous voice and a devastating past. Their story, as told by the goddess Aphrodite, who must spin the tale or face judgment on Mount Olympus, is filled with hope and heartbreak, prejudice and passion, and reveals that, though War is a formidable force, it's no match for the transcendent power of Love.

Author Julie Berry's critically acclaimed writing has been called "haunting and unforgettable" by New York Times bestselling author of Salt to the Sea Ruta Sepetys and "utterly original and instantly engrossing" by Publishers Weekly.

Editorial Review

No editorial review at this time.


December 1942

I Hear a Rhapsody

It is early evening in the lobby of an elegant Manhattan hotel. Crystal prisms dangling from the chandeliers glow with soft electric light. On velvet couches near the fire, couples sit close, the men in officers’ uniform, the women in evening wear, resting their heads on their gentlemen’s shoulders. Restaurant garçons seat couples at dim tables secluded by faux-Greek marble busts and showy ferns, where urgent kisses may remain unseen.

The orchestra warms up, then begins the strains of “I Hear a Rhapsody.” A lady singer fills the glittering stage with her amber-colored voice:

my darling, hold me tight

and whisper to me

then soft through a starry night

i’ll hear a rhapsody

She’s not Dinah Shore, but she’s really something.

A man and woman enter the lobby and approach the front desk. All eyes follow their progress across the Persian rugs. The man, colossal in build and stern of jaw, wears a fedora tipped low over his brow. When he reaches for a billfold from the inside pocket of his double-breasted pin-striped suit, the panicky thought occurs to the desk clerk that perhaps the man is reaching for a pistol. His black-and-white wing-tip shoes don’t look jaunty. They look dangerous. He makes half the men nervous, and the other half angry. He’s the kind of man who could crush you beneath his feet, and he knows it.

But oh, is he beautiful.

His lady friend, even more so.

She wears a tailored, belted suit of deep blue that fits her better than skin. Her figure is the sort that makes other women give up altogether. From the waves of dark hair, coiffed and coiled under her cocktail hat, to her wide, long-lashed eyes peering out through its coy little veil of black netting, down to the seams of her silk stockings disappearing into her Italian leather pumps, she is arrestingly beautiful. Impossibly perfect. The scent of her perfume spreads its soft fingers across the lobby. Everyone there, man and woman, surrenders to their awareness of her.

The tall man knows this, and he’s none too pleased about it.

He riffles a pile of bills under the nose of the stammering clerk and snatches a key out of his unprotesting hand. They make their way through the lobby, with the man urging the woman forward as though time won’t keep, while she takes every slow step as though she’d invented the art of walking.

They carry no luggage.

Even so, a stooped and bearded bellhop follows them up the stairs and down the corridor. The violent glares from the tall man would have sent others fleeing, but this bellhop chatters as he lopes along on crooked steps. They ignore him, and he doesn’t seem to mind.

They reach their room. Its lock gives way beneath the swift thrust and twist of the man’s key. They disappear into their room, but the persistent bellhop follows them in.

He clicks the light switch back and forth rapidly. “Bulb must be out,” he says apologetically. “I’ll be right back with maintenance.”

“Never mind,” says the man.

“Bottle of champagne?” the bellhop suggests.

“Scram,” the man tells him. He and his lovely companion disappear down the narrow hallway, past the closet and bath, and into the tastefully decorated suite.

“As you like,” the bellhop replies.

They hear the door open and shut. In an instant they are in each other’s arms. Shoes are kicked off, hats tossed aside. Jacket buttons are shown no mercy.

One might not trust this man, and one might even envy or condemn this sort of woman, but no one can deny that when they kiss, when these two paragons, these specimens of sculpted perfection collide, well—

Kisses by the billions happen every day, even in a lonely world like ours.

But this is a kiss for the ages. Like a clash of battle and a delicious melding of flesh, rolled together and set on fire.

They’re lost in it for a while.

Until a cold metal net falls over them, and the electric lights snap on.

“Evening, Aphrodite,” says the stoop-shouldered bellhop.

December 1942

The Golden Net

The prisoners, stunned and blinking, have the squashed and deformed look of criminals who pull pantyhose over their heads to rob a bank. The golden mesh of the net, supple and translucent, presses down upon them with the weight of a ship’s iron chains. It’s a work of exquisite beauty and extraordinary cunning, but neither god appreciates its craftsmanship just then.

Aphrodite’s lover tears at the net with savage fingers, but its glittering strands hold firm.

“I’ll skewer you, brother,” he snarls. “I’ll smash your skull like an eggshell.”

Most people would flee at the malice in that deep voice. But not Hephaestus. He’s not afraid of the massive god.

“Don’t waste your breath on him, Ares,” says beautiful Aphrodite. She turns a withering gaze on her uniformed husband. “For a hotel this expensive, the service here stinks.”

Hephaestus, god of fires, blacksmiths, and volcanoes, ignores the jab. He eases himself into a soft chair and stretches his misshapen feet before him on the carpet, then addresses the battle god, who is indeed his brother. Both are Hera’s sons. “Service everywhere has gone down the toilet since your latest war began. All the good men are overseas.”

“Where they should be.” Ares thrashes again at the golden net. He tries to conjure a weapon from thin air. Normally this would be effortless for him.

“No point,” advises Hephaestus. “Might as well be mortal, for all the good your power’ll do you. My net blocks you. Can’t have you escaping.”

Aphrodite, goddess of passion, turns her back upon her husband. He catches her gaze in a long gilt-edged mirror.

“You disgust me,” she tells his reflection. “Jealous, cringing dog.”

“Jealous?” Hephaestus feigns surprise. “Who, me? With a wife so loyal and devoted?”

If his words sting Aphrodite, she doesn’t let it show. She pulls her blue jacket back on over her blouse and knots a fetching little scarf around her neck. “Well, you’ve caught us,” she tells Hephaestus. “Netted like two fish in a stream. What do you plan to do with us?”

“I’ve done it” is his reply. “Step one, anyway. Put you under arrest.”

Ares and Aphrodite look at him like he’s mad, which is possible.

“Step two: offer you a plea bargain.”

Aphrodite’s eyebrows rise. “Offer me a what?”

“A deal,” he says. “Renounce this chump, and come home with me. Be my faithful wife, and all is forgiven.”

The clock on the mantelpiece gets two or three clicks in before Aphrodite begins to snicker. Ares, who has watched for her response, now guffaws with laughter. Too big, too loud, but he’s relieved, and he’s never been a good actor.

“You think she’ll leave this for you?” He flexes his many (very, very many) muscles. They swim like dolphins under his glowing skin. The removal of his shirt has done glorious things.

Hephaestus is drowning inside, but he’s come this far and he sticks to his plan. “You reject my offer?” he says. “Then I’m taking you to trial on Olympus.”

The net, which had lain over them like a heavy blanket, now encircles and encloses Ares and Aphrodite like a laundry bag, while a chain hoists them upward. Their divine limbs, so impressive in marble statues, jumble every which way uncomfortably. The netting bag rotates slowly through the air, like a ham curing over hot coals.

“What are you doing?” Aphrodite cries. “You put us down at once.”

“Your court date has been moved up,” answers the bellhop. “Father Zeus will officiate at the bench, and the other gods will form a jury.”

The goddess of beauty has turned a delicate shade of pale green. The spectacle of the entire pantheon of immortals howling and cackling at her mortification! Nobody knows the sting of gods’ mockery better than a god. And nobody knows your weak spots better than sisters. Those prissy little virgins, Artemis and Athena, always looking down their smug, goody-goody noses at her.

Bagged like a chicken she might be, but Aphrodite still has her pride. Far better to bargain with her husband in a swanky Manhattan hotel than to quail before her entire family.

“Hephaestus,” she says smoothly—and Aphrodite can have a brown velvet voice when she wants to—“is there, perhaps, a third option?” She sees her husband is listening, so she presses her advantage. “Couldn’t we just talk this out here? The three of us?” She elbows Ares. “We’ll stay in the net and listen. Ares will behave. Surely we don’t need to drag others into such a private matter.”

Hephaestus hesitates. Privacy is Aphrodite’s domain. A hotel room practically gives her a home-court advantage. He smells a trick.

But she does have a point. He, too, has pride to sacrifice upon the altar in hashing this matter out publicly.

“Let me get this straight,” he says slowly. “You decline your right to a trial by jury?”

“Oh, come off it,” says Ares. “You’re a blacksmith, for Pete’s sake, not an attorney.”

Hephaestus turns to his wife. “All right,” he tells her. “We can do it here. A more private trial. I’ll be the judge.”

“Judge, jury, and executioner?” protests Ares. “This kangaroo court is a sham.”

Hephaestus wishes he had a bailiff who could club this unruly spectator on the head. But that’s probably not what bailiffs are supposed to do.

“Never mind him,” Aphrodite tells her husband. “You’re already sitting in judgment upon us, so, yes, be the judge if it suits you.”

Ares laughs out loud. “Tell you what, old man,” he says. “Fight me for her. May the best god win.”

Just how many times Hephaestus has imagined that satisfying prospect, not even his divine mind can count. The devious and cunning weapons he’s devised, lying awake and alone at night, plotting a thousand ways to teach his cocky brother a lesson! If only.

But you don’t accept a challenge to duel with the god of war. Hephaestus is no fool.

Except, perhaps, where his wife is concerned.

He produces for himself a bench and a gavel. “This court will come to order,” he says. “Let the trial begin.” view abbreviated excerpt only...

Discussion Questions

1. What do you think Berry intends you to think about when you see the novel’s title? In what ways can we consider war to be lovely? Can love be characterized as some kind of war?

2. How does using an impromptu trial help give meaning to the stories of Hazel, James, Aubrey, and Colette in 1918? Would anything be lost or gained by removing the mythological narrators?

3. James and Hazel primarily know each other through the exchange of letters. How do you think this affects their relationship as the story progresses?

4. How does the role of music compare in the characterizations of Hazel and Aubrey?

5. As Hades describes the fates of Colette’s family in the razing of Dinant, he notes that “Colette the child died that day.” (page 121). How does the experience shape Colette’s character? How do the horrific deaths of people close to them, and their coping efforts, shape the characters of Colette, Aubrey, and James?

6. Hephaestus is a brilliant creator, bearing what his fellow gods consider to be grotesque physical deformities, who, for good or ill, is eternally wed to the embodiment of beauty. Which of the story’s characters do you think best parallels Hephaestus and why?

7. Aphrodite approaches her story as one of love conquering long odds: war, racism, cultural differences, wounds, and so forth. Do you think the odds stacked against Hazel and James are greater than those against Aubrey and Colette? How about those facing Hephaestus and Aphrodite, or Aphrodite and Ares?

8. Think about Hades’s role in the story: what does his narration do for the story? How does he function as an actor within it? How does he relate to his fellow Olympians?

9. James is the only one of the four protagonists who has no “Apollonian story”—that is, he’s not a musical artist. What do you consider to be his “art”? Which Olympian matches up with him the best, and why?

10. One of the tragic realities of war is its capacity to dehumanize those involved in it, and how often that can be an asset to survival. What are some of the ways in which you see the characters in the story being dehumanized in the Great War and surviving its horrors because of it? How do they fight to hold onto their humanity? Do you see this reflected in the Olympian narrative?

11. Early in the novel, Hazel expresses a deep concern that James will be changed by the war. Whom among the four protagonists do you see as being the most changed by the war: Hazel, James, Aubrey, or Colette? Would you argue that some of the changes are for the better?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

No notes at this time.

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