As with previous volumes, the writing is sublime
Anyone missing Kenneth Widmerpool until his final page appearance in "The Valley of Bones" can be reassured that he's back with a vengeance in "The Soldier's Art". For the first time in the series, Widmerpool has gained a role where he can exert power over others and engage in schemes to further his career. Needless to say this opportunity does not bode well for his subordinates who, in this volume, happen to include both Nick Jenkins and Charles Stringham. Does this suggest his trajectory is to become ever more monstrous? It is an interesting prospect and one that feels increasingly probable.
So often with the "A Dance To The Music Of Time" books, the pay-off, when it comes, is well worth the wait, as we learn the title of "The Soldier's Art" refers to a Browning poem which Stringham discusses with Nick in a pivotal scene and seems to foretell of Stringham's ultimate fate.
I shut my eyes and turned them on my heart.
As a man calls for wine before he fights,
I asked one draught of earlier, happier sights,
Ere fitly I could hope to play my part.
Think first, fight afterwards--the soldier's art:
One taste of the old time sets all to rights.
Elsewhere World War 2 starts to take its toll in sad and dramatic ways, and this book serves as a timely reminder that this was an era of uncertainty and bloodshed. The death of characters who readers have come to know well over seven previous volumes helps to reinforce the senseless tragedy of the war.
As with previous volumes, the writing is sublime, and the slow, methodical approach to some superb set pieces is a wonderful thing to behold. I adore these books and will be reading them all again once I finish the series.