I have been looking forward to reading this novel since I stared seeing it pop up throughout the blogosphere. I admit to falling in love with the cover. I think it’s gorgeous. In this case, I found that there is a reason not to judge a book by its cover.
The Rose of Sebastopol tells the story of Mariella Lingwood, a proper, sedate Victorian woman who has worshiped the older boy her parents bring in to their house from the moment she first saw him. Henry excels and becomes a well-respected surgeon. Henry and Mariella are engaged and although Henry cares for Mariella, he is more decisive about his work than he is about her. His hesitancy seems to be exacerbated by the arrival of Mariella’s perky, spontaneous, and adventurous cousin Rosa, who comes with her mother to livewith Mariella’s family after her stepfather’s death. Whether it altruistically be to help others or his need to create space between himself and Mariella (or Rosa?), Henry decides to once again head to the battlefields of Crimea to help the wounded soldiers. Rosa also longs to leave the confines of Victorian London. After being turned down by Florence Nightingale‘s nursing corps, she takes the first opportunity she finds to become a nurse in Crimea. When she goes missing and Henry is taken to Italy in grave health, Mariella must go and discover the truth of the life that was happening all around her.
I agree with Alyce from At Home with Books when she calls The Rose of Sebastopol character-driven fiction. Normally that works well for me. I was even in the mood for it at the time I started reading it. I enjoyed the first third of the novel, digging in to Mariella and Rosa’s characters. Nothing kept me interested after that. The book felt long, mainly because character definition does not advance the plot very well. One would expect the story to move along after timid Mariella is confronted with the realities of the battlefields in Crimea. It did not. With the exception of boat rides to shore or an outing or two with Rosa’s step-brother, the novel took place entirely inside Mariella’s head. Unfortunately, I found that to be as dull as her life. I also never fully understood the implications of her time spent at the home of Rosa’s step-father. In the end, I didn’t care anyway. The only reason why I didn’t completely abandon the book was because I was interested in Rosa’s fate. I skimmed the last third of the novel only to discover that I wasted another hour on the novel.
I wish that I could recommend this novel, but I can’t. I tweeted about abandoning it and Marg from Reading Adventures suggested reading Julia Gregson’s The Water Horse for a more interesting read about the Crimean War. For right now, I’m a little turned off by the whole thing. I’ll try to keep that in mind in case the mood ever strikes. In the meantime, here is what other’s thought of this novel:
A special thanks to Marcia from The Printed Page for letting me borrow this novel.