The Rose of Sebastopol by Katharine McMahon (March 5, 2009 in the United States, 2007 in the United Kingdom), 384 pages
I hadn’t had a good experience with historical fiction in quite awhile. I think this broke that spell. It’s interesting, though, for me to think about this. I’ve read (in that abovementioned while) books in historical settings, but I don’t consider them historical fiction because they bear some other sub-genre labels, I suppose.
Set in the Crimean War (mid-1850s, with looks back to the 1840s), The Rose of Sebastopol moves back and forth between England — London mostly with touches of Derbyshire — and the Crimea. Although Rosa Barr steals the show to a certain extent, the main character is Mariella Lingwood, only child in her early 20s of a contractor father. She and her mother are always working on some humanitarian project, but all this is really just the story’s backdrop. When Mariella is still quite young, her cousin on her father’s side, Henry, comes to live with them after his mother dies. He grows up and becomes a driven surgeon. Mariella’s other cousin, this time on her mother’s side, Rosa, also plays a large part in the story. Mariella and Rosa are fast friends, although Mariella is a bit frightened by Rosa’s boldness. I did enjoy the female characters and the interplay among them.
Henry the surgeon goes off to the war, and Rosa later does as well — she’s wanted to be a nurse (if she can’t be a doctor) for years.
I enjoyed the setting. I hadn’t really read much in this time period (nor did I know much about it); the main piece I’m recalling, actually, is a biography of Florence Nightingale that I read in elementary school.
I wasn’t bothered by the jumbled timeline — some chapters are set 10 or 11 years before most of the rest of the tale — the story was consistent within chapters, and when the setting did change, it was clearly labeled. I actually think this was important for the story, and that it worked.
I enjoyed this book. The characters are believable and sympathetic.
The first half (or so) was really quite slow, though.
Katharine McMahon is also the author of The Alchemist’s Daughter, among other books.