Monday, 6 April 2009

Katharine McMahon: The Rose of Sebastopol

Russia, 1854: the Crimean War grinds on, and as the bitter winter draws near, the battlefield hospitals fill with dying men. In defiance of Florence Nightingale, Rosa Barr - young, headstrong and beautiful - travels to Balaklava, determined to save as many of the wounded as she can. For Mariella Lingwood, Rosa's cousin, the war is contained within the pages of her scrapbook, in her London sewing circle, and in the letters she receives from Henry, her fiance, a celebrated surgeon who has also volunteered to work within the shadow of the guns. When Henry falls ill and is sent to recuperate in Italy, Mariella impulsively decides she must go to him. But upon their arrival at his lodgings, she and her maid make a heartbreaking discovery: Rosa has disappeared. Following the trail of her elusive and captivating cousin, Mariella's epic journey takes her from the domestic restraint of Victorian London to the ravaged landscape of the Crimea and the tragic city of Sebastopol. As she ventures deeper into the dark heart of the conflict, Mariella's ordered world begins to crumble and she finds she has much to learn about secrecy, faithfulness and love.

This is not the kind of fiction I would usually read, but I thoroughly enjoyed the story. The background to Victorian England and the Crimean War was well explored and the characters have been described realistically in fantastic detail. The historical details about Florence Nightingale's nurses were incredibly captivating as were the descriptions of the war provided by Henry and Rose in their letters. The ending to the story does not tie up loose ends, which I usually do not like. However, in this case the story would have lost its poecy, had there been a clearer ending to it....

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