No Man’s Land- Simon Tolkien

I was chosen by Netgalley to receive an advanced reader copy of “No Man’s Land” by Simon Tolkien. Given that fact, it has not altered my opinion on the book at all. “No Man’s Land” has a scheduled release date of January 24th 2017.

There are two main reasons why I wanted to review this book. First and foremost, with a last name Tolkien, and a nerd rep on the line, it’s kind of a given to pay homage to a man that sucked me into the fantasy realm. I was beyond excited to learn that this is Tolkien’s grandson writing this book. Secondly, can I just say that this cover is so eye catching? If this book were sitting on a shelf in a bookstore, I would be drawn to it, regardless of what genre it is in. I earnestly hope to go into this book without any predilection. While I am a completely immersed and won over by “Middle Earth”, I’m excited to have a completely different scope into the mind of a Tolkien.

“No Man’s Land” (I’m going to say) is divided into 3 parts:

  1. Pre-war- character descriptions, locations, background
  2. Mid-war- a very “Saving Private Ryan” description, not for the faint of heart
  3. Post-war- how the war has affected the characters, and continues to affect surrounding people.

“No Man’s Land” starts out in Islington, London in 1900. The Tolkien legacy continues as far as detail goes. The reader is immediately introduced to Adam Raine- the main character throughout the book. Adam is describing the streets he’s grown up with, referencing it to “the first world he’s ever known”. The beginning descriptions are very reminiscent of “Oliver”. Adam lives with his mom and dad, struggling to purchase what they need. Adam’s father, Daniel, is a builder, who seems to be in and out of work depending on the ebb and flow of economy and the season.  Daniel is a believer in Karl Marx, and shares his belief that religion is the “opium of the people”. In stark contrast, Adam’s mother, Lilian, believes in God, and has Adam join her when she goes to church services.

Albeit money is tight, Adam’s mother is insistent that Adam attend school. Around the same time, Daniel and fellow workers go on strike for unfair wages and working conditions. Daniel spends all of his time and energy leading the strike, which causes Lilian to meet her untimely death. Lilian’s death not only changes Adam, but also Daniel. His robustness for Karl Marx’s ideals are squelched, and it’s as if Daniel questions everything; including a new job position in Scarsdale, being a weighperson in a mine working alongside his cousin.

Coming from Islington into Scarsdale, is similarly written as going through Dante’s Inferno, and the levels of hell. Even though Islington was bleak, and had it’s own way of life, Scarsdale is described as being a monochrome town; work revolved around the mine, where wives were fearful of the accident sirens, and as soon as children came of age, were recruited for mine work. Although his father is consumed with his new position, Adam is able to escape mining life and continue on with his academics. Adam is reminded on a constant basis from the mine kids that he does not belong in their world.

Due to unsafe working conditions, there is an unfortunate accident in the mine. Thinking that Daniel is among the injured, Adam takes it upon himself to sneak into the mine to find his father. In doing so, Adam and another boy, Rawdon, become trapped in a cave in, and have to blindly find a new way out. Although Daniel was not among the injured, Adam nearly escapes the mine, and Rawdon’s father leads a mob to protest the unfit working conditions. Unfortunately the mob (as they tend to do) works itself into such a lather that they throw torches into a house. Daniel tries his best to save everyone in the house, but becomes trapped and ends up dying.

With gratitude, the owner of the house, Sir John Scarsdale, offers to become Adam’s benefactor; allowing Adam a place to live, and to continue with his academics. At this point of the book it is evident that war is coming, and the book takes a drastic turn. To try and describe the events would take too long, and for some, I’ll be honest, it may be hard to read through.

“No Man’s Land” is a brilliantly laid out story that follows Adam throughout his muddled life. I can’t even begin to tell you how many amazing quotes came out of this book. Here’s a few that stuck out to me:

  • “Life should be about more than grubbing around, trying to stay alive. Were not animals to be given just enough food and fuel to keep producing goods for the capitalists to sell util we get old and sick and are no more use to them anymore.”
  • “I want a better world for you to live in: one where men are valued for who they are, not for what the rich can get out of them. It may never happen, but it’s still worth fighting for.”
  • “If it’s got my name and address on it, it’s goin’ to find me anyway. So there’s not point cowerin’ in the corner, screamin’ for Mama.”
  • “It’s hard. . . going home because the soldiers family has no idea what he has gone through. And he cannot explain it to them because the war is outside the scope of their imagination.”

What I enjoyed about this book? As I was reading, I was literally picturing everything in my head. The drab towns, the mine, the war. . .everything. I’ll admit, that the beginning of the book was a bit hard to get through. I wasn’t sure why there was so much detail going into back stories, and characters. Later in the book I was extremely grateful that I did not put the book down prematurely. All of the detail and backstory came together beautifully- enough to break the reader’s heart .

What I did not like about the book? As much as I like historical fiction, I would say that war historical fiction (is that even a category?) is definitely not my go-to genre. All in all, I am very happy that I read this book- which goes to say that even though a book may not be in your go-to genre, or something else doesn’t match up, you should always try to branch out every now and then.

Although the Tolkien name will live on (in infamy mind you), I do believe Simon Tolkien has staked his own claim. He can more than hold his own with story telling, just as his grandfather did. I look forward to reading another of Simon’s novels down the road.






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