by Roy M. Griffis
Series: By the Hands of Men, Book OneKindle Edition, 262 pg.
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013
Read: April 29 – 30, 2016
I was blindsided by this one — I knew what to expect plot-wise, don’t get me wrong — what I didn’t know what how little time it’d take for me to care. I got invested in this story and the characters far faster than I normally would.
Charlotte Braninov was sent to a boarding school in England to keep her safe during the tumult leading up to the October Revolution, not one to hide away, she volunteered to become a nurse tending to the English wounded in France during the Great War. Her American friend (who we could’ve spent a little more time with), Kathleen, is in a similar position. Toiling away at a hospital near the front lines — there’s a great focus on the nurses here, not just the doctors and surgeons (as one usually gets), those who tend to the wounded and dying all the time. I really appreciated that.
Charlotte has a brief encounter with a charming and wounded British officer that leaves a mark on her psyche. Not surprisingly (because this is a novel, and people like that don’t just vanish), Lt. Robert Fitzgerald is stationed at the hospital Charlotte serves. Events conspire to get them to spend time together, a friendship blooms — and maybe something else will as well.
Through Robert, we get a glimpse or two of life in the trenches while Charlotte is our entry to medical care. Between the two, you get a decent idea what things were like in France (or at least Griffis lets you think you do). The research is there, but you get the idea Griffis wouldn’t let historical data get in the way of his story (which is the way it ought to be in historical fiction). He also doesn’t overwhelm you with details the way so many slip up and do in early works — just enough to provide atmosphere and add an air of authenticity.
Tragedy, hardship, horrors of war intrude and complicate life. Honestly, peacetime isn’t a picnic for anyone, either — especially for someone from Russia. The plot takes a couple of twists and turns, setting things up nicely for a sequel that you really need after the last couple of paragraphs.
This isn’t just a love story, nor is it really that much of a war story — it’s both and a lot more. You’ll chuckle, you’ll “awww,” you’ll get ticked off, you’ll be moved. Pretty much, if you name it, Griffis characters will make you feel it.
I’m not going to tell you that Griffis is a master of style, a wizard with subtle characterization, or a weaver of intricate plots, or anything like that. What he is, however, is a compelling story-teller. You like Charlotte, Kathleen, Orlando, Robert, Matron, and the rest almost effortlessly and want to see them happy, healthy, etc. You care about the events surrounding them and the outcomes for the characters. I really liked this one and am trying to find a hole in my schedule to throw the sequel into, you should do the same.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this from the author — sorry for imposing on your patience, Roy — in exchange for an honest review.