A shy, stay-at-home young woman becomes the unlikely heroine of this highly entertaining historical novel.
When it comes to 19th-century heroines, modern readers expect them to be ahead of their time. They are either tomboy geniuses like Jo March, who chafe at the narrow roles women were expected to fill, or sparkling wits who aren’t afraid to speak their mind, such as Lizzy Bennet and Marianne Dashwood.
If they are shy on the surface, like Jane Eyre, that’s only because they’re concealing a fiery temper and unsuspected depths.
Then there’s Mariella Lingwood. Timid and judgmental, she craves society’s approval. She’s not bookish or artistic. Instead, she’s a whiz at sewing. (It’s hard to think of a more genteel occupation at which to be a prodigy. Arranging ferns? Painting china?)
Mariella may be no Mary Wollstonecroft-reading bluestocking, but she can embroider a set of towels faster than most of her peers can down a cup of tea.
Mariella’s beloved cousin, Rosa, is far more suited to the role of heroine. Beautiful, opinionated, and impatient with the restrictions of Victorian mores, Rosa is determined to follow in the footsteps of her hero, Florence Nightingale. Despite discouragement from everyone – including Miss Nightingale, who had no use for pretty young idealists – she sails off for the Crimea with a bunch of volunteers. (Mariella’s war efforts? She’s making a scrapbook.)