I loved this book despite its subject matter, which is really harrowing at times. It’s a stunning, beautifully written debut by Xan Brooks. Perfectly paced and expertly told, it’s a story about the broken people and fractured society left in the wake of World War One. It’s 1923 and 14 year old Lucy has been orphaned. She’s living with her grandparents in their failing pub in North London when a groundsman from a nearby stately home offers them money if he can take her to picnic every Sunday evening with ‘the funny men’ in Epping Forest. The men turn out to be 4 disabled war veterans – missing limbs and wearing tin masks to hide their horrific injuries. The children, who are taken there, come to know them as characters from the Wizard of Oz – Lion, Scarecrow, Tinman and Toto. But this story is no fairytale and the real reason for the woodland picnic soon becomes clear. It makes for very uncomfortable reading at times, but despite that there is something wonderfully uplifting about it – driven by the main character, Lucy. Xan Brooks writes so well. What could have become a fractured narrative with its kaleidoscopic view on society after the war hangs together perfectly and pulls you deeper and deeper into the unfolding stories. A masterful first novel.