Sunday, 15 December 2013

Book review: Heroic Measures

Gwen Spencer choose to become a nurse to get away from the home of her vengeful aunt, but it became her passion. When America enters WWI in 1917, a call goes out for health personnel to go to France and Gwen volunteers. But she soon discovers that what she signed up for includes chaos, primitive conditions and braving bombs and men crazed by the horror of the war. Still Gwen finds joy and fulfillment in her job and working alongside a doctor with drinking problems, she even rises above herself and finds a new calling. And then there's Adam Farleigh, the British army captain, whom she keeps bumping into and whom she can't stop thinking about.

I've always been interested in the way WWII changed the world for women, opening up job opportunities for them they previously never had. But it wasn't until series 2 of Downton Abbey that I realized women did not just step up to do their bit in WWII, they did this in the same measure during WWI. After watching Sybil become a nurse in Downton Abbey, I decided I wanted to know more about these brave women and read a wonderful non-fiction book about the female nurses during WWI: The roses of no man's land by Lynn MacDonald. In Heroic Measures, Jo-Ann Power gives a (fictional) face to one of the these women and allows us a look into their harsh existence.

Jo-Ann Powers has written over a dozen novels, historical romances and mysteries, but she has been captivated by the bravery of WWI nurses for decades and always hoped to dedicate a book to them. Now, with the centenary of WWI coming up, Heroic Measures, the first part of a trilogy was released. I think that's just a wonderful thought and I hope this book will acquaint many people with the untold stories of these heroes in their own right. Heroic Measures paints a vivid and realistic portrayal of the life of these women, dealing with enormous work-loads, sleeping in hammocks, washing their hair in their helmets and wading through knee-mud. It's a realistic novel, so it might not be for anyone. If you're squeamish about medical content, this might not be the book for you, unfortunately.

Gwen is a strong and persistent woman, but we readers also become privy to her fears and doubts, especially about the sister she left behind in America and the friends who are in equally dangerous situations as her. Be this as it may, I never really connected to Gwen while reading this book. It was as if she was too strong and brave, too distant for me to really identify with her. My favourite parts of the story where the strong friendships which developed between Gwen and her fellow nurses. Unfortunately, there were not many of these scenes, the novel focusing instead more on the medical side of the nurses' life. 

I also felt as if there was something off about the central romance of Heroic Measures. For some reason, until the end of the story, I kept expecting Gwen's romance to fall through and end badly. I might have been thrown off guard because of the cover of the book, featuring two men (while in the book itself the second man in Gwen's life only played a very small role), but I continuously got the impression the person Gwen ends up with was not 'the one'. 

In short, Heroic Measures is a commendable historical novel about a very important subject, but lacks a little bit in characterization from my point of view. 

I received an ebook version of this book from NetGalley and the publisher Smith Publicity in exchange for an honest review. 

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