Promises Made Under Fire reminds me why I adore this author so much. The gentle tone and excellent writing always gives me a sense of deep romance without any explicit sex. I think the historical setting and slower pace help develop a deeper sentiment without ever feeling slow or boring. There’s not always a happy ending, but I love Cochrane’s writing so much I can always get over this minor point. I don’t always look for historical books but this is one of the very few authors I know will deliver an excellent book regardless of it’s time period or characters.
The short novella revolves around young officer Tom Donald during the war. He is struggling with the endless fighting and feeling of hopelessness and enjoys the optimism of fellow officer Frank Foden. Tom lives vicariously through the letters Frank receives from his mother and wife, Veronica. Soon though Frank is tragically killed, leaving behind a few short requests for Tom. Frank asked Tom to visit his mother and deliver a letter to a friend, Ronnie. Tom discovers that the letters Frank was receiving were all part of an illusion to hide the truth that his real lover was Ronnie.
Once again the writing is the real star of the piece. The atmosphere and carefully selected language immediately set the tone. Likewise the included letters bring another level of effective nuance and intimacy. The wording feels deliberate and helps bring the time and ambiance of the war to life. It creates complex characters through their own desires but also the time period and seemingly never ending war. There’s a feeling of being afraid to hope for a future yet wanting one at the same time. All of the characters have depth and even in occasional bitterness or prejudice there’s a feeling of complexity. I feel as though there is so much more to the characters than we see and their brief appearances are only the tip of a much bigger well. I credit the writing quite a bit for developing such a deeper feel than what’s on the surface.
I enjoyed watching the romance between Tom and Ronnie grow through letters, as must have been common at the time. Tom appears much more jaded and mature than his young age of 23 though. Likewise Ronnie seems considerably older than Tom. The story does a commendable job showing how they’re suited to each other, which considering Frank was no doubt the same age, but still Ronnie comes across much older than whatever his actual age is. I also questioned somewhat the romance between Tom and Ronnie. Tom seems somewhat desperate to finally be with someone and have his affection reciprocated while Ronnie is happy simply to not be alone. This leads to the happy for now, ambiguous ending. While both claimed to be in love, there were no real plans to be together. I wasn’t really bothered by this and have learned to expect it from this author but some might not like the ending.
Overall I quite enjoyed this short story, though it doesn’t rank among my favorites from Cochrane nor is it one I’d necessarily read again. I’m happy I read it though if for no other reason than to remind me how much I enjoy her writing. It definitely makes me want to read more of the author’s backlist.