Book Reviews

Review: “In the Shadow of the Lamp,” Susanne Dunlap

August 24, 2013
Review: “In the Shadow of the Lamp,” Susanne DunlapIn the Shadow of the Lampby Susanne Dunlap
Series: Standalone
Published by Bloomsbury on April, 2011
Genres: Historical, Real Events
Pages: 293

It’s 1854 and sixteen-year-old Molly would give anything to change her circumstances as a lowly servant in a posh London house. So when she hears of an opportunity to join the nurses who will be traveling with Florence Nightingale to the Crimea, she jumps at the chance. The work is grueling, the hospital conditions deplorable, and Miss Nightingale a demanding teacher.

Before long, the plight of British soldiers becomes more than just a mission of mercy as Molly finds that she’s falling in love with both a dashing young doctor and a soldier who has joined the army to be near her. But with the battle raging ever nearer, can Molly keep the two men she cares for from harm?

A love story to savor, and a fascinating behind-the-scenes imagining of the woman who became known as ‘the lady with the lamp’.

I was in need of a historical read, and In the Shadow of the Lamp certainly fulfilled those desires and reminded me why I love the genre so much. I’m a big fan of YA historicals based on real-life events and figures and this one focuses on Florence Nightingale, someone I don’t know too much about. The book was quick-paced and enjoyable, though I did have a few issues with it which prevented me from really adoring it.

This is my second Susanne Dunlap novel – the first being Anastasia’s Secret, which I reviewed and very much enjoyed – so I knew that what I would find in The Shadow of the Lamp would be at least a pleasing read. I wasn’t disappointed in that aspect. I absolutely flew through this novel, wanting to continue the journey with Molly and Miss Florence Nightingale way into the early hours of the morning!

Unlike a lot of historical fiction, In the Shadow of the Lamp doesn’t take a lot of effort to read each chapter. Before you know it, you’re halfway through the book. This is probably one of my favourite aspects of the book and it allowed me to warm up to the story and it’s characters all the more.

I was quite enjoying the book until about halfway through – when things started to get a little misguided with the love triangle. I can honestly say that I never felt anything for the first love interest, Will, from the moment he was introduced until the last page he featured on. I felt as if he were just a blank character – someone that enabled to get to Turkey in the first place. Susanne Dunlap didn’t forge a connection between him and the reader, nor a very good one between him and Molly. I just didn’t care about him or their relationship.

That brings me to the second love interest – Dr McClean. From reading another review, I now realise that we never even learn his first name… I must admit (rather embarrassingly) that I didn’t notice this while reading as most of the dialogue is quite formal, but then again it IS told in first person, so shouldn’t Molly have been thinking aloud his name, considering she had quite strong feelings for him? As for Dr McClean, I felt he and Molly had more of a connection than she and Will, but nothing to exactly write home about. I am still scratching my head as to how the young doctor fell so hard and fast for Molly despite little interaction.

That being said, the ending of the love triangle certainly rubbed me the wrong way. I felt that the outcome was a neat and simple cop-out – I can’t believe that it ended like that. Without giving too much away, I felt that Molly settled for second best and promptly swept her feelings for the man that didn’t ‘win’ under the rug, dismissing them altogether.

Another main issue I had with this book was the supernatural element. Barely hinting at it, it was suddenly thrown at us about 75% through the book and we were expected to believe it had been there all along. I didn’t exactly fall for it. I think this book could have been just as strong – if not stronger – without it. A good YA historical can certainly stand on it’s own two feet without having to throw some magic into the mix.

There was also a continuity error that I’m still frowning about. Towards the end, Molly lands on her wrist, causing a sickening crack, no doubt breaking the bone. Seconds later she is up and riding a horse and carrying out her nursing duties without a mention of the injury. To me, this just stands out as poor editing and can often throw a reader off a book altogether.

Despite my problems with it, In the Shadow of the Lamp is still a solid read that I enjoyed from cover to cover. It certainly delivers in the way of bringing you an escape, and it taught me more than I knew already about Miss Florence Nightingale and the Crimean War.

Recommended to: If you have any interest in YA historical fiction and any of the events or characters featured in The Shadow of the Lamp, I would recommend giving it a read.

About Susanne Dunlap

Susanne Dunlap is a graduate of Smith College with a PhD in Music History from Yale University, Susanne grew up in Buffalo, New York and has lived in London, New York and Northampton, MA. She now divides her time between Brooklyn and Northampton, has two grown daughters, two granddaughters, and is an avid cyclist and dog lover.

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