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A Dance to the Music of Time: The Valley of Bones

In the early days of World War II, Jenkins is a second lieutenant helping to train troops on the home front. His superior officer is the punctilious Captain Gwatkin, and among his fellow officers are the companionable Kedward and the feckless Bithel. Their battalion is reassigned to the English-controlled north of Ireland, where Gwatkin falls head over heels for a barmaid and badly falters during an exercise. Jenkins returns briefly to England for further military education, bumping into Barnby (still chasing skirts but now in the army as a camouflage artist) and meeting a very erudite soldier, David Pennistone, on a train. With Odo Stevens, a young barracks-mate, Jenkins rides on leave to the country to visit with his pregnant wife, Isobel, and her family. Upon arrival he learns that his sister-in-law Frederica Tolland plans to marry the many-times-wed Dicky Umfraville, and that his brother-in-law Robert is about to embark for the continent with the Intelligence Corps. Stevens flirts with another Tolland sister, Priscilla, but he and Jenkins are forced to depart just as Isobel seems to begin labor (we learn later that she has given birth to a boy). The war progresses poorly for England (this is the spring of 1940, as British Expeditionary Forces are evacuating Dunkirk), and later, back in Ireland, Jenkins hears of Robert’s death. Bithel drunkenly kisses a private, but escapes serious censure when unexpected orders put the company on maneuvers. Gwatkin, distracted by having caught his barmaid with another man, again fumbles as a leader; he is shortly afterward relieved of command and replaced by Kedward. Jenkins, no standout as a field officer, is reassigned to a staff position in the Deputy Assistant Adjutant General’s office, which turns out to be occupied by none other than Widmerpool.

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It’s not getting easier to write about this series, as more and more often I want to say nothing more than “Wow, that was good." Starting off The Valley of Bones, I again had the familiar twinge of disappointment that comes from meeting new characters when what I really want is to find out what’s happened to the ones I already know. But it lasted only a moment, because by now I’ve accepted that Powell has me in good hands, and that the new faces will quickly become as compelling as the old ones.....Read More