Miss Lily’s Lovely Ladies by Jackie French (Miss Lily #1)

Miss Lily 1Title: Miss Lily’s Lovely Ladies

Author: Jackie French

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: HarperCollins

Published: 27th March 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 524

Price: $29.99

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?

~*~

AWW-2018-badge-roseSophie 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.

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Traitor to the Throne by Alwyn Hamilton

traitor coverTitle: Traitor to the Throne

Author: Alwyn Hamilton

Genre: Young Adult/Fantasy

Publisher: Faber/ Allen and Unwin

Published: 25th January 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 592

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: The second installment of this highly-acclaimed trilogy, Traitor to the Throne throws the irrepressible Amani into a world of espionage, harems, and the Sultan himself.

This is not about blood or love. This is about treason. Nearly a year has passed since Amani and the rebels won their epic battle at Fahali. Amani has come into both her powers and her reputation as the Blue-Eyed Bandit, and the Rebel Prince’s message has spread across the desert – and some might say out of control. But when a surprise encounter turns into a brutal kidnapping, Amani finds herself betrayed in the cruellest manner possible. Stripped of her powers and her identity, and torn from the man she loves, Amani must return to her desert-girl’s instinct for survival. For the Sultan’s palace is a dangerous one, and the harem is a viper’s nest of suspicion, fear and intrigue. Just the right place for a spy to thrive… But spying is a dangerous game, and when ghosts from Amani’s past emerge to haunt her, she begins to wonder if she can trust her own treacherous heart.

~*~

Opening where the Sultan’s guards have captured Amani, the Rebellion and the Rebel Prince, Ahmed, soon find a way into the palace to rescue her. The rescue that takes place sets in motion a series of events that endanger Amani and the rebels, the Djinni and the Demdji like Amani – children of mortal women and Djinn, marked by a vibrant colour of hair, or, like in Amani’s case, blue eyes that stand out against her desert girl features. She is known as The Blue Eyed Bandit, and the Rebellion has come to the palace.

Later, kidnapped by someone she thought she could trust and hidden away and controlled in the Sultan’s harem, where she has been stripped of her powers, Amani uses her instincts from her time in the desert, in Dustwalk, to survive the dangers of the palace and the harem, where fear, intrigue and suspicion rule the women there and their daily lives. Using these characteristics to her advantage, Amani spies on the harem and the Sultan – bringing danger to Amani and those she cares about, and making Amani wonder if she can trust herself.

I received this to review initially not realising it was the second book in a trilogy – even though I hadn’t read the first one, I picked up the plot fairly quickly and have bought the first one to read and fill in any gaps I may have. Amani’s world – a world inspired by Sultans and Djinni, where magic and technology are at war and at the same time, being forced together to fight the same war, and where everyone fits into the world nicely, and comes together to create a diverse cast in many ways was one of my favourite things about this novel. It had strong characters, but they were still flawed, plans weren’t perfect and things still went wrong. And not everyone was who Amani thought they were.

As a reader, I enjoyed the mystery and intrigue connected to characters like Tamid, Leyla, Rahim and several of the harem girls, and the Sultima. Even the minor characters had an important role to play, and I certainly had several surprises along the way, when things that I did not expect were revealed. The cliffhanger ending had me reading it twice – I am eager to find out what happens and how things get resolved. As with any war, good and bad people die, and even those who are neither good nor evil, but benevolent or ambiguous face the prospect of death in a war that has been plaguing Miraji and its neighbours.

The first person perspective of Amani, peppered with a few chapters from an outside perspective, such as a Djinni, works well. When she is cut off from the Rebels, Amani has to rely on anything she can hear in whispers from around the palace and her own instincts to get by. She is a resourceful character. I enjoyed reading about a fantasy world in a desert. In Amani’s world, it is set during a time when technology is beginning to take over from magic and superstition – perhaps akin to times in our own world history like the Industrial Revolution, but in a Arabic-like setting. Religion and beliefs are hinted to, but not named – showing that Amani’s world and their traditions are different to our own.

I am looking forward to reading book one, and then book three when it comes out, and seeing how the war concludes – and how Amani and the Rebellion finish what they started.

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