For those who have read the previous reviews on my blog, you know that I enjoy reading historical fiction. So when Susan Lanigan, the author of this great WWI story sent me a review copy I was a happy bird. It is a commendable debut and if I didn’t know it was a debut I would have easily imagined the author to be a seasoned writer. Now, I have read about WW2 fiction mostly and have missed reading about the beginning of the World Wars and how people at the time reacted to it. This story covers that well. Read on for my thoughts.
Title: White Feathers
Author: Susan Lanigan
Publisher: Brandon [The O’Brien Press Ltd. Ireland]
Published: August 2014
Format reviewed: Paperback
Rating: 4 stars
Two lives in danger – her lover’s and her sister’s. But she must choose only one. In 1913, young Irish emigrant Eva Downey is trapped in London with a remote father and hostile stepmother. When she is awarded a legacy from an old suffragette to attend a finishing school in Kent, she jumps at the chance. At the school, she finds kinship and later falls in love with her teacher Christopher Shandlin, her intellectual equal.
But when war does break out, her fanatical and disapproving stepsister Grace forces a choice on Eva. She must present Shandlin, who refuses to fight, with a white feather of cowardice, or no money will be given for her sister Imelda’s life-saving treatment in Switzerland.
Caught in a dilemma, she chooses her sister over her lover, a decision which will have irrevocable consequences for both her and Christopher and haunt her for the rest of her life
Professions of the main characters: Student later field aid and Teacher later Lance Corporal in the Army.
Eva, the heroine in the story is on the receiving end of Cruelty. A step mother who makes Eva’s life similar to an obstacle training course in the military. Side effects of which result in some really tough times in her life. The story touches on the sensitive topic of cowardice; as the title suggests. Men not enlisting in war efforts are handed white feathers as a badge of their cowardice. I felt that apart from the military connection, the men in the story are less brave and some of them plain cowards of character.
It was the 1st World War and emotions were running high, patriotism and lukewarm response were the 2 sides of the coin. The people were clearly out of their depth at the time and their attitudes ran to the extreme; yes to those supporting the forces and no to those who were still trying to make sense of it all. It was understandable that some of the men were hesitant or late to enlist while they thought of their present lives and for some of them their principles were overwhelmed with everything happening around them. Usually we read about everyone joining in and doing their part in the war machinery. It is also a fact that there are people who just don’t join or are forced to join or enlist just for the sake of it and this side of the war rarely comes up or talked about. It was interesting to read about these characters, for whom joining the forces was a relieve and at times better than their lives and some who end up dead as a result of joining up.
Historical fiction is my favorite as the stories are immersive and luxurious in their pace. There is a sense of urgency in the atmosphere yet life moves at much slower pace. This tension in the plot makes it a good read and pages fly easily with death, loss, love and discoveries making up for a fantastic environment in the lives of the characters. This story beautifully flows from Eva’s teenage years to her becoming a toughened young woman who sees death before she experiences love and pleasure and life again comes full circle for her with loss and death of her loved ones.
Now this is a *Spoiler Alert* The dynamic with her step mother made me think of Cinderella, the difference being, Cinderella in this story finds her Prince but loses him in the end and that’s what happens when you are both in the midst of a war. Though you know she loses him in the end, the interesting part is not what happens in the end but how they reach the end. You will see courage and bravery in their journey to be together.
To sum it up I would say, White Feathers is a story, wherein the characters felt displaced, lost in the midst of society’s propriety and war. More than anything else they were trying to plain survive and make sense of their personal feelings and surroundings all at the same time. In the end war is over but the personal battles and fights continue while the characters try to carry on and battle the ugly consequences left behind by the war.
If you enjoy WW stories and historical fiction, you have to read this different from usual yet good, point of view of lives during the war.
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Reviewed by Bharti