After the success of Lilac Girls (which I’ve still never read), Martha Hall Kelly has been a name I’m familiar with. So, obviously, when an advanced copy of her new book was available at work, I grabbed it to read (I know it sounds like I grab any and all copies of books, but if you only knew how many books I don’t take from work…).
Lost Roses is a prequel to Lilac Girls, focusing on Eliza Ferriday and her dear friend, Sofya Streshnayva. Set during World War I and the Russian Revolution, Eliza is an American woman who throws herself into helping the displaced Russian nobility forced from their homes during the overthrow of the Tsar and the governing class. Despite the pressures of society, Eliza chooses humanity over perceptions.
Sofya is part of the Russian nobility, cousin to the Tsar’s family. But by choosing to return to Russia during the unrest, Sofya and her family find themselves in mortal danger. The danger only gets worse when Sofya hires a local girl, Varinka, to help out with her son, Max. Suddenly taken captive and separated from Max, Sofya is determined to escape and be reunited with her stolen son. But as time passes, Sofya realizes she’s going to need some help. Hard work doesn’t seem to be enough–she needs Eliza.
Lost Roses is told in from three points of view, Eliza’s, Sofya’s, and Varinka’s. Because of this, it’s a little slow to start, as the author must establish three different characters before diving into the meat of the story. Personally, I think it might have worked better to tell the story from third person, instead of jumping back and forth between varying first person viewpoints.
Otherwise, it was an enjoyable historical fiction story about several strong women overcoming tragedy and trial to build themselves a new life. Varinka’s character is different than Eliza and Sofya, and not just in the obvious ways of age and social position. Her character is very much living in gray areas. Does she purposefully bring danger to Sofya’s family, or is it a naive accident? And what about the choices she makes afterward, keeping Sofya’s son and trying to be his mother? Is that a normal course of events, or was she really trying to steal Sofya’s son? Varinka is young, just 14 when we first meet her in the story, and even then she’s been through a lot, so like Eliza and Sofya, she is also just trying to build a better life for herself, even if she does it by taking advantage of other people’s tragedy. Her character gives readers a lot to think about. As I read her parts of the story, I was torn between wanting the best for her, and disliking her because she was obviously in opposition to our heroes.
It’s clear that Kelley did her research, bringing both the characters and the places to life. Kelly draws from real people and events to create her stories, which makes them that much more compelling.
I’m interested now to read Lilac girls and see if Kelley is one of those historical fiction authors that creates a compelling saga across vast sweeps of time. I’m always in need of another good historical fiction series.