This review does not contain spoilers.
Series Name: Brotherhood of War
Author: W.E.B. Griffin
Series: Books 1 thru 6 of a 9 book series
Books included: The Lieutenants, The Captains, The Majors, The Colonels, The Berets, The Generals
Format(s): Hardcover/Mass Market Paperback/Audiobook/eBook
Genre(s): Historical Fiction/Military fiction
I was originally hesitant to review these books because after reading them one after another and not taking any sort of notes about them I was unsure in my mind of where each book stopped and a new one began as the story flowed from one novel to the next. It was then that it hit me: the first six books of the series were written as if it were a single book anyway, so they should be reviewed as if they were one long book.
W.E.B. Griffin is one of the pseudonyms for William Edmund Butterworth III. Butterworth had written nearly 100 books under various pen names before he released “The Brotherhood of War” under the name W.E.B. Griffin, the reason being because in the 1960s and 70s libraries were the primary purchaser of books and many times if they saw multiple books by a single author they would select one or two and not buy the rest. Using pseudonyms Butterworth was able to sell more books to publishers who in turn would be able to sell them to the libraries. Coming off the satirical style of the M*A*S*H* series Butterworth wanted to make sure readers wouldn’t be confused as to the style of his new series, and as such created the “W.E.B. Griffin” name.
“The Brotherhood of War” is mostly about the rise of aviation in the US Army after World War II, and while it does touch a bit on the Special Forces (The Berets) it never strays far from the main theme that battlefield air power is needed by the “modern” Army. Griffin presents the issues early aviators had in getting air units established in the Army and the problems the US Air Force (formerly the U.S. Army Air Corps) was causing because of the Key West Agreement (an agreement in 1948 between the US Army, Navy, and Air Force concerning the division of air power in the US military).
The first book in the series, The Lieutenants, starts off introducing all the main characters that appear throughout the first six books. As appears in many subsequent Griffin series we have a rich character that seems to have no issue throwing his money around to help the cause in Craig W. Lowell. His rise to the officer ranks is an amusing one, but his “coming of age” tale throughout the story is well written if just a slight bit over the top. He is the foil to Sandy Felter, who despite looking like a minor character is really the driving force behind much of the story in the later novels. George “Mac” MacMillan is another character that has an amusing backstory, and he is one of the few characters that go from plot to plot in a seamless transition. Phillip Sheridan Parker IV, an African-American, is one of Lowell’s best friends in the Army. The trouble the two get into causes Parker lots of issues in the stories.
Griffin uses a “cast of hundreds” in the series as multiple story lines run throughout the books. He does a remarkable job keeping most things straight (Wikipedia has a list of errors in the series for those interested, although none are glaring nor take away from the story) as he uses key events in the book as pivot points to switch from plot to plot. His going back in time to show how other prepared for the events, or what they were doing as those events unfolded, is done masterfully. The first time it happened I was a tad confused, thinking “this already happened” as Griffin recounted a meeting between characters for a second time. It was then I realized Griffin was now telling the story from the point of view of the other main character in the room so as to give a timeline of how all the events unfolded.
One thing you won’t find much of in the series is combat. The stories are more the political and emotional side of the Army, with the only combat being that which shows the characters’ motivation for future events. It’s not that Griffin can’t write a good battle story because the ones included are done very well, it was his choice to not center his stories around the fighting the Army does against an enemy but more the struggles of and in the Army in attempting to serve their primary goal.
The first six books of “The Brotherhood of War” series are outstanding, both individually and as a group. When one gets to the end of The Generals it’s clear that Griffin intended the series to be over by including a sort of “what happened to them” section where we find out what happens to many of the primary characters of the series. Unfortunately, as we will see in a future review, that was not the case…