Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Rose of Sebastopol by Katherine McMahon

The Rose of Sebastopol is set during the Victorian Era. Brave and adventurous Rosa Barr follows her calling as a nurse and joins Florence Nightingale with her nurse corps during the Crimean War of the 1850’s. When Rosa becomes missing, her first cousin Mariella Lingwood dashes to Turkey to find her.
The novel opens with Mariella arriving in Italy from London to be with her sick fiancee Henry Thewell. Henry is a surgeon who serves in the Crimean War. When Mariella is reunited with Henry, it is Rosa’s name that Henry calls for and not Mariella’s in his delirium. What has happened to Rosa? Has she and Henry fallen in love? Has Rosa betrayed Mariella?
No two people could be more different than Mariella and Rosa. It’s a surprise how these two could get along. They are the best of friends and the best of cousins. Mariella is a Victorian lady who is conservative and lives a sheltered life. In London, she has a sewing circle and keeps a scrapbook about the Crimean War. Rosa, however, is a rebel and out-spoken. Unlike Mariella, she isn’t satisfied by watching the war in Turkey from London. She wants to be a part of it.
At first, I admit that Rosa is annoying. I think it is selfish of her to leave her sick mother with Mariella’s family. I start to understand her when she claims that nursing is her calling and feels that she could do more where she is needed. My view of her changed from irritation to admiration.
My sympathy goes to Mariella. Jilted by her fiancee, Mariella at first hesitates to find her cousin Rosa. At first, I could not blame her since she is feeling betrayed and suspicious since both Henry and Rosa have left her to go to war. Yet not all is what it seems as the novel progresses. One of the best parts in this book is how Mariella’s character blooms as she remains in Turkey.
The author does a great job of pulling readers to the scenes. While reading, I feel like I am transported to 1855 with the sounds of cannon booming in the background. I could also see the sick and the dying with the rotting flesh as Mariella goes from hospital to hospital to find her cousin. I have to add that back then more people have died from infection rather than in battle. Hand washing is almost unheard of so I’m sure viruses and bacteria have had such a party back then.
Another note, I should mention that the tone of the language here is affectionate at times. I think I read someone’s review saying that Rosa is a lesbian. LOL. Far from it. Back in the Victorian era, people have used more words of affection compared to today. McMahon has such eloquence in her words. It’s almost as if she lived in the Victorian period herself.
One of my favorite characters there is Captain Max Stukely, Rosa’s stepbrother. He is cavalry officer in the war. He’s very charismatic and is admired. I feel like I’m being swept off my feet myself. LOL. Mariella develops complex feelings for him, and he seems to care for her a great deal too.
Sometimes the book seems to drag a bit. It isn’t boring though. Pay attention before starting a new chapter because of the timelines and the places. One chapter I will be in London, 1854. The next chapter I will be in Turkey, 1855. Sometimes, the book goes back to Derbyshire, 1844. I have a habit of not looking at title chapters sometimes since I get too impatient to get to the next chapter, especially if the book is really good.
The ending…well, I can’t say that I like it too much. Readers might be disappointed especially if they are looking for a happy ending. So…beware.
I would recommend this book if you like character-driven novels and not plot driven. I’m not saying that there isn’t a plot but I wish there is more information about Rosa while she is in Crimea. However, I wouldn’t read this book if you are looking for something light. If someone asks me to rate this between a scale of one to five, I would rate this as a four.

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