Sixteen year old Molly Fraser doesn't know what to do when she is sacked from her job as parlour maid in when she is accused of committing a crime she did not do because London in 1864 isn't kind to young girls without work. Ready to do anything to keep from working in the awful conditions of a factory, she grabs the opportunity of going to the Crimea as a nurse with Florence Nightingale when nurses are being recruited. The only problem is, she is dismissed for being too young and inexperienced so Molly must use her wits to sneak onto the ship without being noticed and try to prove her worth.
Molly is a high spirited and determined heroine with a very kind heart and I really admired and loved her character for this. She also had flaws and I felt her thoughts and actions were very genuine, which made her realistic. Dunlap portrayed her feelings well through the distinctive voice of her character and I felt like I was growing closer to her over the course of the book. She is the kind of girl I would love to have as a best friend and her story was very original.
I liked how there was a romance integrated into the story too. Whilst I know that many people are finding love-triangles in YA very cliche and overused now, this one was a little different and very realistic because it was easy to see what a difficult position Molly was in as her heart was pulled between two men. It is very plausible to find yourself in this position if the two men are in different countries and the rule of nurses not being able to fraternise with doctors made it all the more exciting for her. At seventeen, she has never experienced love before and her confused feelings were very believable and I liked the way she felt guilty about not making a decision because she didn't want to hurt anyone. Each of the two men were extremely likable in their own way. Will, her friend from back home was very kind, caring, earnest and very much honestly in love because he had sacrificed and risked so much for her in her time of need and Doctor McLean was very handsome, merry and always able to make Molly laugh in a way that makes her heart beat faster. I was happy with who she ended up with in the end though.
Dunlap's descriptive and atmospheric writing set the scene for the war very well and whilst I was reading about Molly's time in the hospital, it felt like I was living there too. Everything is described just as it would have been, from the terrible injuries of the men to the appalling unsanitary conditions without being too gory. The setting of the Crimean war is one that I haven't come across yet in YA historical fiction and was a refreshing change from books in the genre that are set in Tudor and Victorian England or Colonial America. Although not a lot of the details are known, I thought that Dunlap weaved fact with fiction seamlessly to provide scenarios and events that are easy to imagine actually happening at the time whilst keeping to real dates and actual people. I also really liked how the story worked around Florence Nightingale as the famous 'lady in the lam' that everyone knows about became more real in my mind rather than just lines in a textbook through seeing her through the eyes of one of her young nurses. Her character was serious but very strong willed and she was a young lady who knew her own mind very well and seemed to be a born leader.
Verdict: I was swept away with adventure, sorrow, romance and fear on Molly's journey and I absolutely loved it. I couldn't put this book down as it was so compellingly addictive and I took it everywhere with me as I wanted to read it at every spare moment I had. It is one of my favourite YA historicals I've read (and it's my favourite genre!)I'm now really looking forward to reading my copy of Anastasia's Secret and getting immersed in whatever Susanne Dunlap writes next.I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical romance without hesitation and especially those who are taking part in the YA historical fiction challenge- pre-order it!
Rating: 5 stars and it made my top 5 books of 2010 when I read it in Decemeber (Yes, my first review using a rating system gets the highest!)
In The Shadow Of The Lamp is due to be released on April 12th 2011 in the US.
Thank you to the author, Susanne Dunlap, for holding the wonderful competition to win an ARC that I won back in December.