Reviewed by Emma Crowley
IN WARTIME, THE RULES OF LOVE CHANGE …
1854. Britain is fighting a gruesome war.
There has been no news of Lucy Gray since she eloped with handsome and impetuous Captain Charlie Harvington and embarked with him to the Crimea.
Dorothea Gray will risk anything to heal the rift with her little sister and bring her home safe. She determines to join Florence Nightingale and the other courageous women travelling to the battlefield hospitals as nurses.
She will not rest until she finds her sister.
Lucy, however, is on a very different journey, a journey through tragedy, trauma and true love.
But neither sister is prepared for the challenges they will face, the passion they will each taste and the simple fact that they might never see one another again …
You may be forgiven for looking at the cover of this book and thinking you are going to read a light, fluffy wartime romance. But No Place for a Lady is far from that description and I was pleasantly surprised to read such an excellent jam packed story. This was the first book I had read from this author and from looking at her previous two releases it's obvious Gill has a passion for history and a real way with words. All her books have had totally different settings and themes. From the tragedy of the sinking of the titanic in Women and Children First, to the on set affair between Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in The Affair and now to the stark, bleak realities of the Crimean War in No Place for a Lady. It's plain for all to see this author can turn her hand to any era and write a successful absorbing novel.Gill has written a superb historical saga that had me enthralled from page one. This book has everything a good book in this genre should have - strong characters that undergo several changes for the better, a gripping intense, emotion filled storyline, sharp gritty historical detail and of course some romance. Told in several parts and from our two main female protagonists point of view this book is a spectacular achievement.
Right from the opening page as we see Lucy Harvington standing on a hillside as she watches her army captain husband's Hussars prepare to charge in battle I knew I was in for an extremely good read. We are then taken back in time several months to London. Lucy is 18 and impressionable and from the moment she first laid eyes on Charlie across a friends drawing room she knew he was the man for her. Unfortunately her sister Dorothea (who works as a volunteer nurse in the Westminster hospital) does not believe that Lucy can experience true love at such a young age and that her heart will be broken. But defying the rules Lucy is soon married to Charlie and finds herself on board a shop bound for the bleak landscape of the Crimea where the British are engaged in a war over territory with the Russians. Dorothea had wanted the marriage stopped at all costs. Their father is not of a sound mind to agree to this relationship and their mother had died some years ago so she feels she is the adult figure in Lucy's life. I couldn't understand why Dorothea became so involved in Lucy's decision I felt she was sticking her nose into a matter that Lucy herself should be able to work her way through and eventually formulate her own decision. In the beginning Dorothea's actions did not endear me to her but over the course of the book she just like Lucy under goes a radical transformation that will ultimately make them strong, brave and fearless women.
On the one hand Lucy is admirable for leaving everything she has known and travelling to such a faraway dangerous country with her husband. But on the other Lucy's love obviously blind sided her to Charlie's faults and she really had no idea what she was getting herself into. Right from the moment Lucy lands in the hot exotic city of Constantinople the action never lets up. The author uses rich vivid imagery to describe her settings and I could picture every step of Lucy's journey as she gets nearer to the action of the battle field. In fact the whole story is so richly described that I felt I was a character myself in the book right there alongside the women as they acclimatise to the day to day struggles of being camped on a battle field whilst trying to retain some semblance of normality. Here is where we first see Lucy's whole demeanour begin to change and for the better. Up until now she has had a sheltered cosseted upbringing leading a frivolous life but now the demands and ruthlessness of a war become all too apparent for her. She begins to develop into the woman the reader knows she is capable of becoming. Tragedy strikes and soon Lucy finds herself alone and stuck in a land where disease and hardship is rife. I thought when this occurred where can the rest of the book go? So much had happened in such a short space of time that I wondered what had the author left to tell. But never fear Gill Paul was only getting warmed up and the story kept going at an incredible pace that lasted night until the very last page.
I loved how this novel told the story from both Lucy and Dorothea's view points. The same situations were explored but there was never any repetition. The descriptive elements were nicely balanced alongside the narrative of the story. The author was clearly not afraid from writing of the horrifying experiences of war or shying away from the cold hard facts. So when Dorothea volunteers as part of Florence Nightingale's team of nurses the story just took on a whole other level as the brutality and conditions were brought right to the forefront of what proved to be an intense, detailed memorable story. Dorothea herself had also led somewhat of a protected life although she had more experiences through her nursing. But as we read of her day to day struggles nursing in appalling conditions and witnessing such horrendous injuries I could see a total transformation in her. Her softer caring side came out and she even found time for some much needed romance.It made me realise she ultimately only ever wanted what was best for her sister. Her brutal introduction to nursing in the Crimea certainly hardened her and she becomes determined to discover just what has happened to Lucy and to reunite.
The only thing that frustrated me about this book was how often Lucy and Dorothea were so close to each other or barely missed crossing each others paths in Crimea. I wanted them to reunite and solve the problems between them. But I suppose if this had happened we would not have been given half the story that is presented to us.The later half may not have existed and this is where the book truly came into it's own and the author displayed her skilful talents.So much happens that you really just have to read it for yourselves because if you don’t you are truly missing out on what is a fantastic book. I can easily see this book on the big screen it reminds me of Dances with Wolves or The Last of the Mohicans. Obviously not in terms of content but just in the scale and depth of the story one in which you will forget all time and place around you as you are so caught up in the lives of Lucy and Dorothea. Two incredible women I won't forget in a hurry.
The historical note and photos at the end of the book were a welcome addition and only further enhanced what was a truly wonderful story. I even went and looked up Crimea and the war myself as up until reading this book I had only ever heard of the work of Florence Nightingale and had no real idea of just how bad things were.No Place for a Lady will undoubtedly deeply satisfy fans of Gill Paul's writing. At the same time this epic story will earn her many new readers - myself included. Gill Paul is an author to keep an eye on because if she is producing this calibre of writing at an early stage in her career than I can only imagine what treats are in store for us readers in the future. I hear she is researching Russia in the time of the Tsars... now that is one book I will definitely be putting on my future reading list. Meanwhile go buy and enjoy this one.
I'd like to thank Sabah at LightBrigade PR for sending Emma a copy of this eBook to review.