Monday, June 25, 2012

Review: The Rose of Sebastopol by Katharine McMahon

The Rose of Sebastopol: A Novel by Katharine McMahon
Historical Fiction- Crimean War
Audiobook, read by Josephine Bailey
Borrowed from the library
In 1854, beautiful, adventurous Rosa Barr travels to the Crimean battlefield with Florence Nightingale's nursing corps. A headstrong idealist, longing to break out of the rigid confines of life as a young lady, Rosa is determined to make a difference in the world. For Mariella Lingwood, Rosa's cousin, the war is contained within the pages of her scrapbook, in her London sewing circle, and in the letters she receives from her fiance, Henry-a celebrated surgeon who has also volunteered to work within the shadow of the guns. When Henry falls ill and is sent to recuperate in Italy, Mariella impulsively decides she must go to him. But upon her arrival at his lodgings, she makes a heartbreaking discovery: Rosa has disappeared without a trace. Following the trail of her elusive cousin, Mariella's epic journey takes her from the domestic restraint of Victorian London to the ravaged landscape of the Crimea and the tragic city of Sebastopol, where she encounters Rosa's dashing stepbrother, a reckless cavalry officer whose complex past-and future-is inextricably bound up with her own. As Mariella's quest leads her deeper into the dark heart of the conflict, her ordered world begins to crumble, and she finds she has much to learn about secrecy, faithfulness, and love.

I enjoyed the story that is woven through The Rose of Sebastopol. We get a sense of what people at home heard and thought of the war, but also what it was like living and working in the war zone. It is told in dual narrative, with the primary narrative told during the Crimean War, and the secondary narrative consists of Mariella's memories of past events. If you have trouble following multiple timelines, this book may give you difficulty. Part of Mariella's tale of past events can be of her life just before she heads to Italy, from when she meets Henry, and later when she meets Rosa. Eventually the "present" timeline, and the rememberances of life just before she leaves for Italy catch up together, so there is one less time frame to keep track of. Since I had an audiobook, I missed having a printed copy that I could flip back and check at times.

One biggest problem with this audiobook how the chapters end. I would be sitting, listening happily along, and expect the chapter to continue, except it goes launching into a new one. I am not sure if the author wrote it that way, or if the narrator read it in a way where the phrasing sounded like the chapter should continue instead of stopping. This might not have bothered me much, except that I would say at least half of the chapters in the novel ended that way. The other major problem I had with the book is Mariella's voice. When she would get to thinking about how Henry is, or where Rosa was or some decision she has to make, she starts to sound whiny, weak and spoiled. I simply can't stand whiny, weak female lead characters, and this began to get to me. It may have been exaggerated, since I was listening to the book, but not seeing it in print, its hard to say how much. It may also be done to exaggerate the difference between Rosa and Mariella, since Rosa is decisive and fearless, but if this is the case, it could have been done so Mariella didn't sound so weak.

Some of the events covered in the last disk or two seemed hurried, and thrown in almost like an afterthought when compared to the long period in getting to the Crimea and looking for Rosa there. Some of these events would have made the story more interesting, in terms of the characters and their relationships with each other, but being hurried in near the end, they felt more contrived.

In the end, I rode the middle, giving this audiobook 2.5 stars. If you wish to try the novel, I would recommend you skip the audiobook, and try the printed version.


DevourerofBooks said...

I actually haven't heard people be all that thrilled with the print version either, maybe this is just a book to give a miss.

Sarah Williams said...

That's what someone on Shelfari told me- that Mariella was just as annoying in print. Fine for a library book. Probably best to borrow it first.