Sunday Book Club: No Place For A Lady by Gill Paul

So lately I have been binge-reading Gill Paul’s books – which you probably could tell from my last few book reviews. No Place For A Lady is the third book from her that I’m reviewing this year, and it’s only been a few months since I discovered this author. I borrowed this from the public library and sadly this is the last that they have; I have to purchase the rest from her that the library does not carry or start looking for other similar genre authors.

I feel strangely fascinated by the historical aspects of the stories, and I’m wondering that as I get older, perhaps my interest has changed and I am starting to enjoy reading about history as compared to my younger self who found it absolutely dreadful and boring. My husband is amused at what a transformation it’s been – he’s a history buff and I think he’s loving my newfound interest in history because now he has a chance to flaunt his knowledge.

No Place for a Lady is set around the time of the Crimean war; unlike her previous books that I’ve reviewed which goes back and forth between a historical and a modern timezone, this is solely in one time period. While I think that she had done a great job oscillating between two timezones, I found myself enjoying this one time period version a lot more.

**This part of the review consist of Spoilers

1853. Lucy is a fun-loving eighteen-year-old from a family of comfortable means; her 31-year-old plain-looking spinster sister Dorothea has been looking after the household since their mother died from illness when Lucy was 13 and her father in quick mental decline. When Lucy meets a handsome military officer Captain Charlie Harvington, she decides that she must marry him and follow him to the Crimean War. Dorothea does her best to stop the marriage, which causes a riff in the sister’s relationship and Lucy elopes.

At first, Lucy is proud to be a military wife and angry with Dorothea. She becomes close friends with Adelaide, the wife of Bill Cresswell who is a good friend of Charlie’s. However, she soon finds out the many challenges and begins to understand Dorothea’s view that she should have waited for Charlie to come back from the war being getting married. With the outbreak of cholera near Varna, Lucy writes to Dorothea, who works as a nurse, for advice. One night, Lucy hears Charlie call out “Susanna” in his sleep.

Dorothea follows the movements of the 8th Hussars (where Charlie is) closely. When she hears about the cholera outbreak, she seeks out advice and sends them to Lucy but does not get any response. Six months after Lucy left, Dorothea hears that Florence Nightingale is bringing nurses out to Crimea to help with the wounded. She volunteers, with the hopes of finding her sister. She fails at her first try, but succeeds when Mary Stanley, a friend of Florence Nightingale, leads a second delegation of nurses to Constantinople.

In September 1854, the 8th Hussars arrive at the Crimean coast. Lucy is increasingly suspicious, as Charlie refused to tell her why he was cut off from his family. Bill was shot while rounding up prisoners; with Bill dead, Adelaide tries to persuade Lucy to leave but Charlie begs her to stay. In a confused battle, the light brigade charged the length of the Valley of the Balaklava under heavy Russian fire, resulting in a gruesome head count. Miraculously, Charlie survived unscathed. The next morning, Lucy was outcast by the rest of the wives, who claims that Charlie was a coward and did not ride out during the charge.

One day, Charlie confessed that Susanna was his 7-year-old sister; he caused her death when she broke her neck by riding with him on his horse when he made Captain and Bill persuaded him not to commit suicide. After the admission, Charlie begins to act very cold with her. On 24th December, Lucy was woken up with news of her husband’s death in a freak event – Charlie knew that the Russian snipers were there when he rode out.

At the Barracks hospital, Miss Nightingale had greatly improved circumstances. Dorothea spends all her free time looking for Lucy; when she hears of someone who fits Lucy’s description in Crimea, she volunteers to work there. By the time Dorothea arrives, she finds out that Charlie died a few months ago and Lucy has not been seen by anyone since. She retrieves Charlie’s private box, only to find out that he had hidden all her mail.

After Charlie’s death, Lucy laid nearly lifeless on his burial site. A turkish officer Murad saves her and brings her to an abandoned and isolated house when Lucy refused to return to the camp. Lucy makes a home there, and helps do laundry for the Ottoman officers to past time. When Murad finds an injured under-aged soldier Emir, Lucy helps to nurse him back to health. With time, Lucy falls in love with Murad. However, one day Emir rides back and tells Lucy that Murad has been hurt and Lucy leaves to find him in Scutari.

Back at the Castle Hospital, Dorothea received a forwarded letter by her father from Lucy stating that Murad has been injured and Lucy is with him at the Barracks Hospital. Dorothea plans to take the first ship out, which is in two days, but before then, much to her surprise, the surgeon Gordon Crawford proposes to her and she agrees.

At the Barracks Hospital, Murad is now in a vegetative state after a serious head injury and Lucy finds out that she is pregnant with their child. With nothing more that the hospital could do, they return to his home in Smyrna in the care of his family. Dorothea finds her there and the two sisters reunites; Dorothea tells Lucy about how she had been trying to contact her only to be stopped by Charlie and the two sisters becomes closer than ever.

Gordon and Dorothea marries over Christmas in Constantinople. On 31st March 1856, news arrived that a peace treaty had been signed the day before. They travel back to Smyrna, to take care of Lucy during her confinement. With the war over, and the realisation that Murad will never recover and be the man that he was, Lucy decides to bring up the child herself with her sister in London, who is also now pregnant.

Final Thoughts

The book is told from the perspective of both female leads, from which we see both the horrors of the war, as well as their thoughts that led to the misunderstanding between them. I enjoyed the writing style – the two protagonists have very different voices so it is always very clear exactly whose perspective you’re reading. The pace is good; it’s not too slow, although I did think there were a few chapters in between that really need to be there.

I have zero knowledge of the Crimean War, so it was a very interesting read and I just had to check on the actual historical background. To me, any book that stokes your interest to understand and learn more deserves some praise. I was really intrigued about how the war unfolded, and am impressed at how the author managed to weave a fictional story around a lot of the actual events that had unfolded during the war. That said, I think the inclusion of Florence Nightingale fared less well – I didn’t have a very good impression of her or her work after reading the book, and the sections that involved her was a slight drag.

Normally I would be really irritated by how much of an airhead Lucy is, which she really is, but I strangely felt a lot for her. I just imagine this woman back in those days who had much less education and where society norms placed the importance on finding love, and it’s hard to blame her for who she is. I felt quite sad about the ending, how a girl as gullible as her had to go through so much heartbreak; it wasn’t as happy a note as books usually tend to end, but I guess nothing about a war is happy and it provided a sense of reality.

I decided to read some of the reviews for the book itself out of curiosity; I saw many unhappy reviews ridiculing the concept that the women were brought to war in the book. I realized how many people are absolutely clueless – that it did happen in reality – and did not bother to check; they should not be writing reviews of any sort. I’m sorry but I had to rant. I hope others are not turned away by reviews from such people.

This was a really long book review but I thoroughly enjoyed it; I liked how the author managed to make an awful historical event into an enjoyable read. I think it’s a nice introduction of history for people who like fluffier chick-lit, and so much more educational.

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