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 fiancé, 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