The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney
The two cousins at the centre of this book could not be more dissimilar. Mariella is thoughtful, timid and conventional; her sights are set on marriage to Henry, a promising young doctor. Rosa is reckless, courageous and unconventional; she is determined to make a career for herself in medicine, despite the resistance of the medical institutions to the ambitions of women.
The lives of all the protagonists are changed, however, by the outbreak of the Crimean War. First Henry is drawn into the chaos of the British Army's inadequate attempts to deal with its casualties. Then, inspired by the example of Florence Nightingale, Rosa follows him. Finally, when Henry becomes desparately ill and all contact with Rosa is lost, Mariella sets out in search of her friends, discovering much more about them and about herself in the process. This is a superbly written book and, despite its grim subject matter, it is tremendously entertaining, informed by a gentle irony and offering real insight into the human condition.