Title: Miss Lily’s Lovely Ladies
Author: Jackie French
Genre: Historical Fiction
Published: 27th March 2017
Synopsis: A tale of espionage, love and passionate heroism.
Inspired by true events, this is the story of how society’s ‘lovely ladies’ won a war.
Each year at secluded Shillings Hall, in the snow-crisped English countryside, the mysterious Miss Lily draws around her young women selected from Europe’s royal and most influential families. Her girls are taught how to captivate a man – and find a potential husband – at a dinner, in a salon, or at a grouse shoot, and in ways that would surprise outsiders. For in 1914, persuading and charming men is the only true power a woman has.
Sophie Higgs is the daughter of Australia’s king of corned beef and the only ‘colonial’ brought to Shillings Hall. Of all Miss Lily’s lovely ladies, however, she is also the only one who suspects Miss Lily’s true purpose.
As the chaos of war spreads, women across Europe shrug off etiquette. The lovely ladies and their less privileged sisters become the unacknowledged backbone of the war, creating hospitals, canteens and transport systems where bungling officials fail to cope. And when tens of thousands can die in a single day’s battle, Sophie must use the skills Miss Lily taught her to prevent war’s most devastating weapon yet.
But is Miss Lily heroine or traitor? And who, exactly, is she?
Sophie Higgs lives in Australia at Thuringa, in 1913. Her father runs a corned beef empire, and Australian women have had the vote for eleven years, unlike the women in England, who are still fighting for suffrage. Sophie’s father sends her across the seas to Shillings, where, alongside women from the upper echelons of European society and royalty, Sophie will be taught by the mysterious Miss Lily about society, and how to behave at dinner, how to talk to men and captivate them, how to flatter them, and how to speak about topics that are said to be not right for a woman to know about. But Sophie is a bit of a challenge – the “colonial” who is outspoken and questions everything she is told. Miss Lily takes Sophie under her wing and sets about preparing her for a society life where she can fit in yet still be who she is. As 1914 inches towards war between Germany and England, Sophie must decide who she can trust. Emily, who has always been aloof and focussed? Or Hannelore, a German princess who is friendly but determined that Germany will win any war that breaks out on the continent. As war breaks out, and the Lovely Ladies head home or get married, Sophie is adrift, but determined to make a difference. With the Australians joining the call to duty and heading to Gallipoli, Sophie helps Alison turn her home into a hospital for injured soldiers. As soldiers die, and babies are born, Sophie is drawn further into the war, and across the seas to the battlefields of Ypres and Flanders, where she recounts her tale to a soldier out on the fields, before they head off the battlefields, where the war slowly wraps up, and Sophie finds herself looking to an uncertain future in the inter-war years.
In Miss Lily’s Lovely Ladies, Jackie French does not shy away from the horrors of war or the expectations of pre-war Georgian society. The dangers are present, and spoken about, openly and in veiled terms. When Sophie speaks about the threat of war openly. it surprises many, but she finds some men who find relief in not having to curb their chit-chat too much. Like her other novels, Jackie French is telling the stories that have been silence, or relegated to the quieter corners of history, away from the victories of those on the battlefields. whose voices are always heard. The extensive research she has done to uncover these stories is exemplary, and shows just how deep Australian history is, and how much we often miss out on in history lessons.
Sophie’s story ends with a few threads dangling, as a good series does, leaving some mystery for the books to com. The power of friendship felt more important than the romance in this book, though both were present. The romance was woven throughout nicely, so it didn’t overpower what Sophie was trying to do in the war, or her relationship with Alison and the other Lovely Ladies. I had a delightful surprise to meet Midge MacPherson from A Rose for the Anzac Boys again, and I hope she’ll come back in the next book.
The friends that Sophie made throughout the war became important to her, unable to return home because of the threat of enemy attacks, she treasured those she became friends with. As it is a story about war, I felt the deaths and consequences were dealt with realistically and sympathetically, showing the changes in Sophie over the war that altered her perception of herself and the world. I thoroughly enjoyed Sophie’s journey and look forward to it continuing, as I did with Miss Matilda and the Matilda Saga.
An excellent addition to my Jackie French Library, and a great read for fans of the author and historical fiction.
This marks off another square in my book bingo, and will be included in my next post in two weeks time.