WAR happens to people in faraway places, says one of the young characters in Burning Mountain, Lucy Adlington’s new novel for teenagers.

It doesn’t, as anyone living in York will know. Just this week, this city mourned two young York soldiers, David Hart and Ashley David Smith, both killed on active duty in Afghanistan.

Denise and Craig, the brother and sister at the heart of Burning Mountain, learn that lesson for themselves.

Their elder brother Richard, a paratrooper, loses a leg in Afghanistan. He is only just beginning to come to terms with that loss when the book ends.

Burning Mountain could hardly be more relevant or contemporary, in other words.

One of her reasons for writing the book, 39-year-old York author Lucy admits, was to bring home the message that war isn’t just something that happened to other people long ago. It is something that happens to every generation. “And in a city like York, with its military connections, there are so many people who have that anxiety, that worrying about loved ones.”

She can empathise with that: her own brother Ben, and sister-in-law Lorna, both served. Ben was in Iraq, Lorna with the Navy in the first Gulf War.

Lucy doesn’t pretend to know what the families of David Hart and Ashley Smith are going through. “But I do feel for all the families who have young people serving out there.”

Burning Mountain is a first-rate novel – gripping, engrossing and moving by turn – with, at its heart, two wars and an ancient natural disaster.

The wars are the one still dragging on in Afghanistan, and the Second World War. The ancient natural disaster is the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD.

It takes a writer of real skill to marry these together. But Lucy is certainly that – even if she is better known in York for dressing up in period costumes to give ‘hands-on’ history sessions through her companies Century Adventures and The History Wardrobe.

Her first novel for teenagers – The Diary of Pelly D, published in 2005 – was essentially a retelling of Anne Frank’s story, but this time in the form of a novel, written as a diary, about a young woman living on a faraway planet in a distant future. Pelly’s diary is written in the breathless style of a young girl on the verge of becoming a woman, who is obsessed with all the things young girls are obsessed with – boys, shopping and clothes.

But gradually darker elements intrude. Pelly becomes part of an oppressed minority, and ultimately has to go into hiding. The book, it turns out, is about genocide and ethnic cleansing.

For all that, it remains hugely readable, and great fun. Exactly the same is true of Burning Mountain.

The setting of the novel isn’t made clear in the book. But in her mind, admits Lucy, Denise and Craig live in York.

They strike up a friendship with the odd elderly couple who live next door – the Shepherds.

Gradually, to distract them from worries about what might be happening to Richard, the Shepherds start to tell them a story about another war, in Italy almost 70 years ago.

It is 1943, in the war-ravaged Italian city of Naples. Peter Shafer is a proud young German boy who ran away from school to join the German paratroopers, the Fallschirmjager. He believes he’s fighting the good fight, and that Germany is the last bastion against communism.

But to his surprise, he finds that in Italy, he and his comrades are hated, and seen as the enemy.

Also in Naples is Vittoria, a young girl from good family fallen on hard times, who scrapes enough to eat for herself and her rag-tag band of orphan followers by picking the pockets of German soldiers: Peter among them.

Gradually, the Germans are driven north out of Naples by the Allied advance – until, at Monte Cassino, Peter is involved in one of the bloodiest battles of the war. Gradually, as his comrades are pounded by relentless bomb attacks, shredded by rifle fire, blown limb from limb, all Peter’s certainties are stripped away from him. When his best friend Erich is killed, he wanders, lost and distraught, across a battlefield straight out of hell – one to which the eruption of Vesuvius adds yet another nightmarish element. In the ruins of Pompeii, he runs into Vittoria again, and an odd friendship is struck up.

There, they are guided to a kind of safety by the ghost of an ancient Roman legionary, who died in the eruption of Vesuvius that buried Pompeii and Herculaneum in AD 79.

Lucy knew she wanted to write about the war, she admits. And, a lover of classical history, she knew she wanted to write about Rome, too. “And then I had a sudden image of a German soldier, a boy, sitting on the steps of Vesuvius with his head in his hands.”

She started doing some research; and it all came together. Vesuvius really did erupt during the battle of Monte Cassino: there really was a Roman soldier discovered in the ruins of Herculaneum who died in that earlier eruption: and even Peter himself is loosely based on a real German paratrooper who ended up as a prisoner of war in Yorkshire.

There is a delightful twist at the end of Burning Mountain that brings slamming home the fact that the veterans who reminisce about the Second World War were once young themselves, and frightened. It’s a stunning novel: a gripping page-turner that will make you think long and hard about the nature of war, and of heroism. Thoroughly recommended.

Burning Mountain by LJ Adlington is published by Hodder children’s books, priced £6.99