I stopped reading the review pitch once I saw ‘WWI’ in the description, which was basically the first line in the summary. I have read a lot of stand alone novels by Bowen and have been impressed with her writing and historical research.
Her stand alone books have mostly been set in WWII, but WWI is truly my favorite period in historical fiction, so seeing that this book was set during that time earned this book and instant and enthusiastic, ‘yes’ from me.
I have consistently enjoyed reading Bowen’s books, whether they are one of her historical mysteries or her stand alone novels. She as an incredible gift for writing vastly different content and managing to keep all of her heroines fresh and interesting.
As the Great War continues to take its toll, headstrong twenty-one-year-old Emily Bryce is determined to contribute to the war effort. She is convinced by a cheeky and handsome Australian pilot that she can do more, and it is not long before she falls in love with him and accepts his proposal of marriage.
When he is sent back to the front, Emily volunteers as a “land girl,” tending to the neglected grounds of a large Devonshire estate. It’s here that Emily discovers the long-forgotten journals of a medicine woman who devoted her life to her herbal garden. The journals inspire Emily, and in the wake of devastating news, they are her saving grace. Emily’s lover has not only died a hero but has left her terrified—and with child. Since no one knows that Emily was never married, she adopts the charade of a war widow.
As Emily learns more about the volatile power of healing with herbs, the found journals will bring her to the brink of disaster, but may open a path to her destiny (summary from Goodreads).
This novel started toward the end of the war rather than the beginning which caught me off guard. So many writers tend to start at the beginning of the war and pace their story in time with the war. While it caught me off guard, it was nice to not relive the entire war beginning to end. This allowed the audience to focus mostly on Emily’s story rather than getting carried away in the vastness of the period. I know when I read a WWI novel I inevitably end up down a rabbit hole researching the war, and with this book picking up with the war already established, help keep me on track with the characters and story.
I was most intrigued by the ‘land girls’ angle. That was one aspect that I wasn’t familiar with and was eager to learn more about. It provided a new historical interest for me and I was eager to continue reading about it. I enjoyed Emily’s character and the romantic bits with Robbie, but the story over all lacked the heavy hitting emotional impact that I was expecting in a book with this setting and content.
It was a pleasure to read and I eagerly picked up this book whenever the opportunity arose, but I just didn’t feel like it reached above and beyond the average novel of the same period. In some ways I was grateful for that. I wasn’t in the mood for an overly heavy, emotional novel, but at the same time I almost expect to be taken on a roller coaster of emotions.
In the end, Bowen’s writing and experience writing believable stories with memorable characters and romance mixed in, made me give this book a solid four stars. What can I say, I’m a sucker for the WWI era and all the romantic drama one expects from books in this period!