#217 ~ The Rose of Sebastopol

Cover of The Rose of Sebastopol

The Rose of Sebastopol by Katharine McMahon

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:

Other Voices

At Home with Books
S. Krishna’s Books
Medieval Bookworm
Reading Adventures


A special thanks to Marcia from The Printed Page for letting me borrow this novel.

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  • At 2009.12.07 10:22, Stephanie said:

    Hmmmm–I am torn as to whether or not to give this book a try. I am definitely not against character driven novels, and the Crimean War aspect is interesting, but on the other hand a bunch of lukewarm and negative reviews doesn’t usually bode well!

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    • At 2009.12.07 11:11, Fyrefly said:

      Oh, blergh. I’ve had this on my TBR pile for a while now, and I was hoping to get to it soon – I do love the cover – but now I think I’ll put it off a while longer. Sad!

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      • At 2009.12.07 11:39, Nicole said:

        I love character driven but there need to be some thought given to the plot so that it advances and is more than incidental. I just read a book that was very character driven and interesting to read but once I put it down, it sown it takes forever for me to get back to it.

        • At 2009.12.07 12:23, Jen - Devourer of Books said:

          I think I’ve only seen bad and so-so reviews of this book, nothing particularly good. I’ll be avoiding it.

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          • At 2009.12.07 12:38, Meghan said:

            Sometimes I think I am the only person in the world who actually enjoyed this book. I’m sorry it didn’t work for you and hope your next read is better.

            • At 2009.12.07 13:27, Sandy said:

              I don’t mind a character-driven novel. In fact, I just recently finished The Night Watch by Sarah Waters, and it was exactly that. I had to push through the first part of it, but it rewarded me in the end. I will take your lead on this one and give it a pass. Too many other things to sink my teeth into!

              • At 2009.12.07 14:42, Alyce said:

                It’s funny because I remember being frustrated with how slow the novel was at first, but really liking it in the end. I think my preference would have been for the novel to focus on Rosa instead of Mariella since she was kind of a doormat. But I have to say that my overall impression of the book was a positive one. Sorry it wasn’t your cup of tea.

                • At 2009.12.07 15:34, Marg said:

                  I really would recommend reading The Water Horse when you are ready to read more about the Crimean War. I was disappointed with this one and particularly found that the timeshift didn’t work for me.

                  • At 2009.12.07 15:55, Kathleen said:

                    What a shame that the book didn’t live up to the lovely cover!

                    • At 2009.12.07 16:01, Kathy R (Bermudaonion) said:

                      I do love character driven novels, but something has to happen to those characters to keep my interest. Sorry this didn’t work for you.

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                      • At 2009.12.07 19:30, Carolina Gal's Literary Cafe said:

                        Thank you for your thought I have a copy that I bought of few months ago. I may give it a try with reservations. I don’t want to waste my time because I have free time starting this week to really read. I may go tear in something better than that. Thanks for your thoughts again. Happy Holidays to you and your family.

                        • At 2009.12.07 23:25, Jennifer said:

                          Meghan, you now know you are not alone – Alyce liked it, too. 🙂 Not everyone can like everything anyway. This spices it up. I’m glad that there are people who did like it. I just couldn’t care less about the narrator. That’s never a good thing. I fully agree with Alyce again about making Rosa the focus. She was all I cared about in the end.

                          Caroline, I have to suggest you read something else during your free time. I hope you enjoy it!

                          • At 2009.12.08 10:44, Jo-Jo said:

                            It is really too bad this book did not work out for you. I also love this cover and I remember when I first read the synopsis a month or so ago that I thought I would also enjoy this book. Thanks for the honest review.

                            • At 2009.12.08 11:42, Serena (Savvy Verse & Wit) said:

                              I also love this cover. I think its fantastic! The story sounds well written. I’ll have to check this book out.

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                              • At 2009.12.08 17:26, Lisa said:

                                I was attracted to this one by the cover, too. Thanks for the honest review!

                                • At 2009.12.08 21:39, Jemima said:

                                  What a shame. The cover is so lovely. But thanks for your honest thoughts.

                                  • At 2009.12.09 02:51, Veens said:

                                    Actually I love that book cover and that is going to be in my post soon! I checked on goodreads and everyone has a different view abt this one; mostly it is coz it is slow.

                                    The plot sounds intriguing to me though!

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                                    • At 2009.12.09 17:34, Jackie (Farm Lane Books) said:

                                      I wasn’t a fan of this book either. It has been a long time since I read it so I can’t remember why, but I don’t think I cared much about them either.

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                                      • At 2010.01.12 02:37, Wendy said:

                                        I’m in the middle of the book, and I’ll continue to plod through it until ..well, until I finish or until I don’t care to pick it up again. Funny, but like so many others, the cover illustration charmed me, the synopsis interested me… and the rest is a little blah.

                                        (Required, will not be published)

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