Monday, 12 November 2018

Emma's Review: Daughters of War by Lizzie Page

Reviewed by Emma Crowley

As a teenager in Chicago, May always dreamed of travelling the world. So when she meets handsome George Turner, she jumps at the chance to return to London as his wife. Ten years later, May is wondering if she’s made a terrible mistake.

It’s 1914 and war has been declared in Europe. All around, brave young men are being called up to serve. George, banned from conscription himself, has taken to the bottle, and May suspects he’s seeing other women too. She longs for a way to escape.

The chance comes when May meets veteran nurse Elsie, who persuades May to join the war effort. May knows nothing of nursing – it will be difficult, dangerous work, but her heart is telling her it’s the right thing to do.

But then George does the unthinkable and May’s future is put at risk. Will she have to make the impossible choice between duty to her family and her promise to the soldiers on the front line? And can she live with the consequences if her husband goes through with what he’s threatening to do?

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Many thanks to Bookouture via NetGalley for my copy of Daughters of War to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.

Daughters of War is the second book in a planned trilogy written by Lizzie Page focusing on remarkable, brave and selfless women during World War One. Women who put everyone else and their needs and suffering before their own needs and desires. Earlier this year I read the first book in the series, TheWar Nurses, which was Lizzie's d├ębut and I was simply blown away by both her writing and the story following Elsie and Mairi as they worked on the front line of the war saving as many lives as possible in a time fraught with tension and danger at every turn. It's timely that these books have been published this year given it is the century of the conclusion of the war but Lizzie Page has written such wonderful stories that bring the realities of the time right to the forefront of our minds at a time when we should remember all those who lost their lives and sacrificed so much for our futures.

Daughters of War sees our attention turn to May Turner who in turn has her own story to tell of her experiences during the four years of hell and anguish inflicted upon Europe between 1914-1918. It was a delight to see Elsie feature in the story for very brief periods every now and again as it established a connection between the two books and as Elsie and Mairi both had such an impact on me it was just brilliant to have mention of one them in relation to a new setting and character. May and her life are completely different to that of Mairi and Elsie, and I was thankful for this because before I began reading the book I questioned would it just be a rehash of the same story although set in a different part of the war zone? The book needed something different to set it apart from The War Nurses and Lizzie Page managed to achieve this and provide her readers with an interesting, heartbreaking and absorbing read.

Honestly May was a character whom my opinion of swayed back and forth over endless times through out this book. But I think that's what the author wanted us to feel as she wasn't a clear cut person and right from the outset she has a lot of change to bring into her life and despite her being a mother to two young girls she herself I felt was quite immature and needed to stand up for herself more. The war was a horrific event for all involved and it changed the course of world history but if in the case of this story it had not occurred I don't think May would have undergone the journey and transformation that she went through. She is a vastly different person by the end of the book and a character one could identify with and a more likeable character than when we first meet her.

In May 1914 we met May originally from America but now married to George and living in London. Her two young girls are away at boarding school and she rarely sees them except for holidays, May is prone to melancholy and feels trapped and ensnared in her marriage. She is miserable and knows she needs social interaction and to make friends if she is ever to break free and to start to feel what she terms normal. May was a person who was crying out for love, support, affection and friendship. She believed her marriage would have offered that but leaving America and now living in London, giving up so much she is disappointed to discover that is not the case. She experiences waste and isolation but a glimmer of a new May begins to emerge when she responds to a request for a companion to an artist Percy whilst he works. A friendship is formed but it is not the dominant plot of the novel in any sense of the word.

Venturing out to try and find new experiences May takes up outdoor swimming at a local pond and it is here she meets Elizabeth. Elizabeth is a spinster who lives with her mother and cats and really she was the most quirky character who in my mind had her head in the clouds a lot of the time. But you couldn't knock her for her ambition in wanting to swim across the channel from France to England. Elizabeth gave May the impetuous to get out there away from George and her loneliness and as war breaks out May feels she must do something to help those in need. A chance meeting with Elsie Knocker who has just signed up for Dr. Hector Munro's flying ambulances sets in motion a train of thought for May, she enlists with the red cross as a volunteer in France. Talk about stepping out of one's comfort zone, from a mousy women dominated by her husband and not willing to voice her suspicions regarding his activities to a woman who travels abroad to do her bit. She is away from the wealth and comforts she is accustomed to and given her state of mind I wondered would she be able for all that she would witness.

For the author spares no detail in descriptions in what befalls the troops fighting on the front. Nor is there any shying away from the conditions volunteers, nurses and doctors endured as they battled to save those who were maimed and affected by the fighting. May seemed to me like a fish out of water. She had a vision of what to expect when she arrived in France but the realities were far harsher and it was evident she had a lot of growing up to do and her needs had to come second or even further down the line. This book wasn't as action based as I felt book one had been, there was a lull in the middle part of the book where I did think there was repetition in terms of describing the way casualties were treated and the daily routine of May and the people she works with. But I suppose on reflection this was what happened at the field hospitals. There were days and days of the same thing, treating people and periods where not much happened and then boom all of a sudden there was an onslaught of such horror and awful scenes when a move was made at the front. The Battle of the Somme and its affect on May and her co workers was an example of this.

The book did pick up again just after the midway point and it became very character driven as May battles with her emotions and duties. She feels loyalty to the friends she has made in France and to perhaps a man who has shown some affection towards her. But given she is still married to George nothing can happen. But also it is her two daughters who are at the forefront of her mind and I thoroughly enjoyed the way this strand of the story developed as it showed the conflict in May's heart and mind. That things weren't clear cut. She was a woman on a mission who wanted to help those in their most desperate hour of need yet women didn't abandon their families and just up and leave the country. May showed great spirit and tenacity the further the story developed and I was heartbroken, and in fact angry, at the way George treated her and the lengths she had to go to to show her daughters that she did love them and hadn't abandoned them. She was a mother with divided loyalties and a time of conflict she found them even harder to deal with.

May despite all she witnesses in France feels liberated that she has escaped from George. Now she has a purpose and a goal but as the war further encroaches on her entire life and her day to day experiences she wrestles with her conscious that those around her even friends she made back in London before she left will be impacted by the decisions she has made. May was a raw recruit who really didn't know what she had let herself in for when she volunteered to go to France but in fact this was the making of her and the starting point for her transformation. She goes from what I viewed her as a weak person and someone whose decisions were made by others for her to someone with great character and spirit. A woman whose experiences of the war make her and she earns respect from her colleagues and in a way the reader too. She placed herself in the eye of the storm and as the author writes of everything May goes through I could feel and visualise the sights, sounds and smells of the war and the deprivation everyone experienced and the sacrifices everyone made became all the more real for me as seen and told through the eyes of May.

I enjoyed how the story developed at the conclusion of the war. It didn't feel far fetched, strung out or just tacked on for the sake of it. Instead it brought this beautiful story of courage and bravery full circle and the little twist at the end certainly brought a smile to my eye and I would say it was very well played. Through this trilogy Lizzie Page is helping shine a light on the sacrifices and contributions made my countless women and men during the Great War and she is doing so with sensitivity and tact whilst providing her readers with an excellent story that is gripping, informative and interesting. Conflict, struggles, heartbreak and smiles all form part of this read and the balance of these is perfect throughout the story. Daughters of War is  a worthy successor to The War Nurses - although Elsie and Mairi will always hold a special pace in my heart. I am now more than interested than ever to see who will form the focal point to book three but I'll have to wait to discover the answer to that question until 2019.

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