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 the first book I have read by Katharine McMahon, and I must say, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The story was convincing and engaging. At no point was I bored or struggling to continue. McMahon writes in a wonderful way, with humour, description and character. I easily slipped into the story and felt I was there.
The story does jump between different locations and years, but I did not find this troubling, in fact I feel it enhanced the story. It was fascinating to read about how people at home viewed the war, how to them it was only a small part of their lives and how they thought it should go, compared to what was actually happening out there.
I didn’t have a favourite character, all of them touched me. I did find Mariella a touch selfish though. She managed to make the whole war centre around her, amazing! I was happy with the way most characters developed and how the story ended. I did guess what the ending was going to be, but it was still sad and a satisfying finish.
I was left asking a few questions, but overall I really enjoyed this book.