I love discovering a great author, and Julia Gregson weaves believable fiction through historical fact to create a lovely tale of youthful indescretion and ambition.
Catherine is a fun (but not proper) Welsh girl in the 1850s, meaning she races ponies along the shore, sings with the local drovers, and dreams of a larger world. After her mother’s tragic death, Catherine decides to dedicate her life to medicine; unfortunately the world of medicine is not interested in her dedication or her abilities. After asking her friend Deio to help her sneak away to London, she takes up service as a nurse at a rest home for governesses. Although she struggles with the limitations of her gender, Catherine is soon given the opportunity to serve in the Crimean War. A crushing lack of medical supplies and personnel means that Florence Nightengale is asked to provide assistance, and Catherine jumps at the chance to extend her world-view.
The author doesn’t make any attempts to disguise the gruesome realities of 19th century war or medicine, but does a good job of not overwhelming the reader with gore. It must have been an awful situation, yet the typical British pluck conquered all (well, actually, the same British pluck got them into the mess in the first place, but the author presents the propaganda of the time without much sarcasm, which I am unable to do).
The Water Horse is a tale mentioned throughout the book, as a powerful figure who lives within the waves of the ocean. He will beckon you to ride him, and if you succeed, you’ll have the most amazing adventure. But if you ride the Water Horse once too often, he will drag you down to the depths of the ocean, and you’ll be lost forever.
I totally loved this book. I immediately went out and reserved more by the same author, and I hope they all have such lovely characters, prose, and historical lyricism.