Harper Collins, $32.99
Young, handsome Riley Purefoy is moving up in the world: a wealthy, bohemian family has taken him under their collective wing, and he has a kind patron, a celebrated artist, who assists him with his education. At 18, his greatest concern is how to win the approval of his dream girl’s parents. But then, a moment of regrettable mischief sees him enlist to serve in Belgium at the beginning of World War I, an experience that is eventually devastating.
Riley’s CO, Peter Locke, an officer with refined tastes, has left behind a beautiful young woman who appears unable to fulfill any role except the one she is being denied, that of dutiful wife. While Julia plumps the cushions and buys more pretty dresses, Peter’s unmarried cousin, Rose, spends wartime in a more useful pursuit: nursing. She works at the Queen’s Hospital in Sidcup, where Major Gillies performs groundbreaking reconstructive plastic surgery on the faces of returned soldiers. It is at Sidcup that Rose nurses Riley after half his face is blown off.
With broken heroes and limping heroines, it’s one sad historical novel. War is sad.
But as romances go, this is totally readable and uncringeworthy. Thoughtful analysis of the hardships faced by women during wartime, frank accounts of the era’s sexual mores, and fascinating research on the actual history of plastic surgery strengthen a gentle tale of the strength of true love.
Reviewed April 2011