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Legends of the Lost Lilies by Jackie French

Title: Legends of the Lost Lilies

Author: Jackie French

Genre: Historical Fiction, Thriller, Espionage

Publisher: HarperCollins Australia

Published: 7th April 2021

Format: Paperback

Pages: 448

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: The final and thrilling conclusion to the popular and bestselling Miss Lily series

A mysterious telegram that says, ‘Lily needs you’ arrives just before a plane from war-ravaged England lands in one of Sophie Greenman’s paddocks.

Sophie, Countess of Shillings, has been living a quiet life on her property in Australia, until love and loyalty draw her back to England where she once trained to become one of Miss Lily’s ‘Lovely Ladies’. Now, in 1942, Shillings Hall trains women to become espionage agents.

Sophie’s mission? To seek out disaffected German officers prepared to kill Hitler.

Across Europe women like Sophie, or Parisian couturier Violette, or Hannelore, German Prinzessin and spy, must determine where their deepest loyalty lies. And as Europe slowly disintegrates, Miss Lily must also decide her final fate.

Based on real-life events, this is the story of the women who wielded immense, yet secret, power. And in this fifth and final book in the Miss Lily series, Jackie French tells the story of the remarkable women who have been carefully left out of our war histories: those lost lilies of allied espionage.

~*~

The final Miss Lily book takes place in the years of World War Two. Sophie Higgs-Vaile-Greenman has been living peacefully in Australia at Thuringa, with husband, Daniel, and her twins Danny and Rose, now sixteen. She’s whisked away at the behest of a telegram from Miss Lily in 1942 to Shillings. Here, she finds out that Shillings Hall trains SOE espionage agents, tasked with helping resist the Nazi march across Europe. Sophie’s task? Seeking out disaffected German officers and plots to kill Hitler and bring an end to the war. Yet Sophie is not alone – Violette and Hannelore are also working as agents in the war, and they must determine where their loyalties lie within the war. Who can anyone trust in this day and age, and what will Miss Lily’s final fate be?

The final book in the Miss Lily series is based on real life events, strands of various events and people drawn together to create a compelling story about an often-untold story of war histories. The female spies have often had their stories ignored or untold until recently – and I have read a few books that revolve around these women and that involve French resistance movements, Fresnes prison, and those who risked their lives to help the war effort in secretive ways. Resigned to her fate, Sophie reluctantly takes on her task, and finds her life thrown into turmoil yet again, with thoughts of getting home to her family and an end to the second war of her lifetime the only things getting her through.

Jackie French often tells the untold stories of women in history in her novels, bringing these events and people to life and to our attention. We often think of war, especially World War Two, in terms of battles, the Holocaust, or Prisoners of War, and the roles of women as spies or attached to the army have been stories that have either been hidden or simply not told until recently – and we’re starting to understand that the war had so many more people affected in a myriad of ways that we may never have thought of. Jackie French’s historical fiction is rich with detail, research and life. Filled with tragedy alongside the joy and intrigue, her fictional characters bring the real stories and the history to life for readers. We are fully immersed in Sophie’s story and what happens to her. As a reader, we experience the pain, the isolation – everything she has to do and go through, as well as the hopelessness, and the guilt, and everything in between that Hannelore and Violette experience too.

Everything and everyone has a purpose in this series, much like any book written by Jackie French. Their appearance will always mean something bigger towards the end and will always bring something new to the story. The Miss Lily series, as it features a lot of espionage work, plays a lot with the role of identity and becoming someone else. Miss Lily is also Nigel, and as needed, Nigel becomes Lily and vice versa. Her Lovely Ladies know how to charm people, but also how to become someone else. How to blend in. Violette and her parents – Jones and Greenie – are also adept at this. Hannelore learns how to navigate her identity as a Prinzessin but also as a prisoner and a spy – and how the previous war has changed her immensely. Each woman is a spy for their respective countries, and each wants peace and an end to the war. Yet everyone goes to different lengths – unforgivable lengths – to achieve their end goals as others plot to kill Hitler and bring an end to the war.

Throughout this series, difficult things have been touched on, yet Jackie deals with them deftly and sensitively, and in this final book , pulls all the threads of the series together to bring closure to the characters and what they have been going through alone and together since 1913. It is about friendship, and love of those we have spent time with, those who see who we truly are and love of family, both biological and the family that we create. There’s so much about this series that I love. But my favourite is what I’ve already mentioned – that it tells the untold story of women spies in World War Two, and what happened to them if they were betrayed or captured by the enemy, and how they navigated the war in a time when they had to get secret messages across enemy lines. The realities of war are not shied away from – the tragedy, the death, the prisons, the sense of defeat and hopelessness as the war marches on. Other people’s stories are interspersed, and we gain insight into Sophie’s family, her twins – Danny and Rose – who come into their own, and form a part of the story that shows how the family left behind, and how Australia, was impacted by the war and the absence of those who went off to participate in the events in Europe.

At its heart, this story is about people. About women and about the stories we should be hearing. We should acknowledge the atrocities the enemy committed, commemorate the fallen and acknowledge what those that risked their lives in battle did. Yet at the same time, the deeper scars that we can’t see that continue to influence people and their families alongside the untold stories need to be told too. And this is what Jackie French masterfully does, and exquisitely wraps up with a continued message about identity, family and new starts – and finding your way in a world that isn’t always fair. But stick with those who appreciate you and your life, what you fought for, will matter. I loved the way this ended, with a sense of hope for the future, and eagle-eyed readers will recognise characters like Midge from A Rose for the Anzac Boys.

Another fantastic Miss Lily book from Jackie French, where I wanted to say so much more but also wanted to avoid spoilers! A beautiful end to a remarkable series that reminds us history is so much more than what we are officially told or taught.

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