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Review: The Rose of Sebastopol, by Katherine McMahon

The Rose of Sebastopol is a novel set against the backdrop of the Crimean War. The three main characters are Mariella, our over-sheltered narrator; Henry, her fiancĂ©, who goes off to the Crimean War as a doctor; and Rosa, Mariella’s idealistic cousin and best friend, whose progressive ideas lead her to become a nurse in the Crimea with Florence Nightingale. When Rosa goes missing, Mariella goes off in search of her cousin, encountering a very sick Henry along the way.

The historical detail is top-notch, but I had a slight problem with the characters: Rosa is a little too modern, and Mariella is a little boring, though I realize that McMahon may have made her so on purpose for historical accuracy. The constant references to skirts, petticoats, and corsets were a little too intrusive, and I believe that if a real 19th century woman had been narrating, she wouldn’t have even mentioned her clothes, much less her underclothes. It’s almost as though McMahon wanted to say, “look, look, I did my research!”

In addition, the non-linear narrative is jumpy, and the novel doesn’t truly get interesting until Mariella goes to the Crimea. But even then, I thought the entire journey in the first place was a little out of character for Mariella, who seems to be the kind of person who would normally put a lot of thought into something before doing it. Also, the ending is a little rushed and inconclusive, and the book could have used a better editor (for some reason the author, or her proofreader, is afraid of commas). But other than that, I enjoyed the story and the historical details.

Also reviewed by: Medieval Bookworm, BCF Reviews, S. Krishna Books, The Literate Housewife


Lenore said…
The crimea is an interesting region. Fear of commas is a strange affliction.
Audrey said…
I know what you mean! I had the same "Look, look, I did my research!" reaction to a mystery I just read set in 19th-century Philadelphia, but had a harder time explaining it. I like the way you said this.
Marg said…
I read this book and had some of the same issues as you did. It wasn't a bad read, but it wasn't great either.

It does seem quite strange to me that there is not more HF written with this setting. Surely Florence Nightingale and her nurses would provide at least some fodder for a good novel.

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