Guarding an Angel

Lady Meg's Gamble

More Than A Dream
by Martha Schroeder
(Zebra Ballad, $5.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-8217-6864-6
More Than a Dream is the first installment of a planned trilogy dealing with three young Englishwomen who chose to serve with Florence Nightingale during the Crimean War. While setting her story in London, the author cleverly interweaves the realities of that pioneering experience into her tale. If the other two books - whose stories are foreshadowed here - are anything like the first, then readers who enjoy novels set in the Victorian era are in for a treat.

Catherine Stanhope is clearly a gentlewoman. The daughter of a baronet who has a place in the government, she could have lived a fashionably life of ease. But Catherine is not content with such a frivolous existence. From her earliest childhood, she wanted to take care of people. Indeed, she even convinced her reluctant father to allow her to study nursing in France. But he put his foot down when she sought to become one of Miss Nightingale’s nurses. Only when she agreed to a pretend betrothed to her childhood friend, Julian, did her father relent. After all, Jules was also going to Russia to serve in the Light Brigade.

The story actually begins with Catherine’s return to London. She has clearly been marked by her experience and finds it hard to find her place in her world. She will not give up her nursing so she applies for a position at St. Luke’s charity hospital. There she encounters another returnee from the war, Dr. Michael Soames. The two have a history; they worked together and came to love each other. But Michael believes her to be betrothed to Julian. Moreover, a Scottish doctor is an unlikely candidate for the hand of an English aristocrat.

As they work together, the two grow even closer. But their love seems fated never to be. Catherine now believes she is honor bound to marry Julian who has been invalided home, gravely injured during the famous charge.

Schroeder uses extensive flashbacks to describe how Catherine and Michael met, worked together, and fell in love. The flashbacks also provide in graphic detail the horrors of war itself, the horrible conditions suffered by the sick and the wounded and the achievement of Nightingale and her nurses in the face of the obscurantist opposition of most of the army leaders and the male doctors. I understand that some readers don’t like flashbacks, but I think that Schroeder uses them effectively to enrich her story.

Indeed, I found More Than A Dream to be a very rich story. Schroeder paints an accurate picture of British society in the middle of the 19th century with all its prejudice and snobbery. Catherine’s father represents the old order that is changing. He loves his daughter, but cannot understand her determination to nurse. He also believes that he has the right to choose her husband and does not do a very commendable job. When it becomes clear that the betrothal to Julian is over, his next candidate causes Catherine all sorts of problems.

Schroeder demonstrates a good grasp of the historical background to her tale and integrates it very nicely into her story. She provides a fine cast of secondary characters, including Catherine’s two friends from the Crimea whose stories will make up the next two books of the trilogy. She certainly aroused my interest in these characters and in their romances.

Central to the book is the romance of Catherine and Michael. Clearly, these two are made for each other, but the barriers that must be overcome are real, given the time in which they lived.

More Than A Dream has all of the ingredients of a good historical romance: an admirable hero and heroine; an interesting plot; a well drawn cast of secondary characters; and real history that makes the story more enjoyable. I am certainly looking forward to the next two books in Schroeder’s “Angels of Mercy” trilogy

--Jean Mason

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