Reviewed by Emma Crowley
March 1944, West London: it’s been five months since Verity Clement fled home for a life on Britain’s canals and she could never have imagined how tough it would get. Yet hauling cargo between London and Birmingham is far easier to face than the turbulence she’s left behind.
When Verity’s sweetheart returns unexpectedly from the front line, she dares to dream of a brighter future. But life aboard the Marigold is never smooth sailing. New recruit Sylvia is struggling with demons from her past while crewmate Polly must carry on in the wake of devastating news. Verity does her best to help, but a shocking discovery is about to turn her own life upside-down.
As the realities of war begin to take their toll, the waterway girls will have to pull together if they are to survive the uncertain times ahead...
Many thanks to Becky McCarthy from Arrow Publishing for my copy of Love on the Waterways to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.
Love on the Waterways is the second in the Waterway Girls series by Milly Adams. Although I really enjoyed The Waterway Girls I felt this story was even better than the first. Partly I think because I am now more familiar with the setting but also the terminology surrounding canals which features so heavily in the book. This is all very much necessary but I felt when we first met Polly and co all these new words slightly bogged down the story for me. Yes there is a glossary included at the beginning of the book to help readers become familiar with the new words and it is helpful but I think unless one previously knows about canals and their workings than they would find some of it difficult to understand. Now I have a deeper understanding and appreciation of all the hard work and dedication it takes to work on the cut and I found myself not as worried about comprehending all the sayings etc I was more freely able to enjoy the story. I also felt as a lot of the setting up had occurred in book one that here now the author was more at liberty to just get on with telling the story.
Love on the Waterways in my opinion was far more character driven than the previous book. I felt we got deeper inside the main characters heads and this time it was Verity's turn to share her story where as Polly had taken more of a prominent role in book one. That's not to say she doesn't strongly feature here, she does, and I enjoyed how her story continued on just like the girls continue with going up and down the cut transporting vital goods and services which will help in the war effort. Sylvia, the newish recruit, who replaced leader/teacher Bet towards the end of the last book, is a character who we get to know somewhat better but we really haven't scratched the surface with her at all. There have been one or two insights reluctantly given by herself into her history and why she has certain stances and viewpoints but that is all. I sense her story will be further explored in more detail in book three.
One thing Love on the Waterways has done for me is re-established, having come to this conclusion after finishing my first encounter with the girls, is that the work these women did during World War Two was extraordinary. The sacrifices they made, being away from their families at such a young age when they didn't necessarily need to be. I doubt young girls of their age today would rush to do the same if needed. Polly, Verity and Sylvia were working in a male dominated world but also the families who worked the canals had done so for years. They had built up their own traditions, customs and ways of speaking, this does take some getting used to when reading, and initially they didn't like people intruding on that. But the girls are made of strong stuff and they weather through with grit, determination and courage everything the canal throws at them.
I loved how the author never shied away from the harsh realities and the conditions the trio experienced as they navigated the cut to reach their intended destinations with their load. Through their dedication and sheer hard work they earned a grudging respect from everyone they encountered. To think that women actually did this during such a dangerous time is remarkable and I am so glad Milly Adams has shone a light on an aspect of the war that up until recently I had never heard of. Such detail was written as to the transport of the goods and the working of the barges and it all added such authenticity and realism to the overall story.
Love on the Waterways is not all just about the movement of goods and aiding the war effort. No the girls lives and what they are dealing with come more to the forefront than ever before. Polly's story continues on from where it left off and the girl who arrived to work on the canals several months ago is very much a changed person. After such hard times she has adapted to her new life and I would class her as someone who has strong leadership qualities but someone who also enjoys the team spirit, friendship and camaraderie she has developed with the other girls. Even if Sylvia can be very abrupt and not as forthcoming as Verity and Polly would like her to be.
Polly's relationship with fellow canal worker Saul has developed even further but things are about to get even more rocky for the pair. Saul has a deep longing to enlist as he feels even though his occupation is reserved that he is not doing enough to contribute to the Allies hopefully winning the war. Throughout this book Saul is racked with indecision. He will have to leave everything he has known his entire life and how can he leave Polly and Ganfer behind? In one sense I could see why Saul wanted to keep everything quiet until things had been confirmed but I do think Polly deserved to know the truth and shouldn't have been kept in the dark for so long especially as everyone else knew. I understand he was trying to protect her, to stop spare her from unnecessary hurt until she need to experience it but sometimes I think sharing what is on one's mind is perhaps the better option. At the conclusion of the book things for Saul and Polly are at a crossroads and their future together is uncertain very much like thousands of couples who were living through such challenging times.
Verity stepped more to the forefront of this book and as I had been intrigued as to her back story I was glad this was the case. Things for her had ended on a cliffhanger in the previous story as she catches a glimpse of the man she loves so dear but then he is gone. Tom is away fighting in the war, but theres is a forbidden love given the nature of their relationship to one another. For Verity being a 'Lady' having a romance with one's chauffeur is very much frowned upon. The actions of her mother have caused upset and hurt and Verity painfully wonders whether love can further blossom and mature between herself and Tom. In such uncertain times surely people should have been afforded the chance to grab love and happiness at every opportunity possible, especially as people never knew what fate had in store for them around every corner. Verity was a character who was very much in pain and at times I don't thinks she knew how to resolve this. She was torn between the love she had for Tom and how she wished her future to proceed if the war ever ended but then despite the actions of her family was there a small ounce of loyalty remaining?
Through miscommunications, misunderstandings and a broken ankle Tom arrives and takes up residence on the barge with the girls during his time of recuperation. I loved Tom from the start and I hoped any misgivings between himself and Verity could be put aside and that they could just get on with things. They seemed like a pair similar to Saul and Polly in that they were destined for each other. Now being in such close proximity to each other given the narrow confines of the Marigold they had no choice but to talk and get things out in the open. To put aside what had happened in the past and embrace the here and now and the short time they had together until Tom was fit enough to return to the front. There were a few unexpected twists and turns in Verity's story and these were a prime example as to how the story became more character driven. I think the book did need these surprises to keep the reader on their toes and to be honest I had never seen them coming. They made me see a character in a whole new light and Verity too needed to experience them to in order to move on with her life. I loved Verity as a character, her storyline felt natural as did all the emotions and indecision she was going though. I was firmly rooting for a happy ending for her.
Some storylines in book one had reached a natural conclusion but others had left me with many questions, one being that of Saul and his family. An incident had previously occurred which in turn spawned many minor little plots. One of these I was very eager to see what would happen, it had sinister and dangerous undertones and would have a bearing on how other things panned out for certain characters. I was glad to see this story line moved forward in a big way but still we were left with room for further exploration.
Overall, Love on the Waterways was an excellent read and the girls have firmly embedded themselves in my heart and as the war rages on and they continue their daily slog and struggles I feel I am there with them experiencing every moment. Milly Adams has done such a fantastic job in creating these characters, the setting and slotting into the overall picture of World War Two.The girls have become like their own little family, a unit on the waterways who will deal admirably with everything that is thrown in their direction. I wish September would hurry up and arrive so I can see what the author has next in store for this intrepid trio in Hope on the Waterways.
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