I started this book without realizing that it is the middle-part of a trilogy (it wasn't mentioned on the NetGalley page and the blurb also didn't say anything) and some of my complaints about the book can be explained by that: it's not a 'conventional' trilogy where one part starts where the other ends. They are all set over roughly the same time-frame but they are all told by different woman from different backgrounds whose lives overlap. I like that idea a lot but not knowing that made it rather confusing to read:
Early in the book Evie meets Lizzy and says that she and Lizzy would soon become best friends...not much later Lizzy is suddenly accused of stealing a valuable diamond and goes to prison. Evie is upset about that happening to her bestest friend for...two paragraphs at least but is busy with her own problems (I am not like the other rich girls! I want to marry the butcher's boy!). Eventually it is proven that Lizzy wasn't the thief (that isn't really a spoiler...not even who the actual thief is would be one because you will almost certainly guess it the first time that person is mentioned...) and then suddenly there are spies and more horrible things happen to Lizzy but mostly off-page. Evie only learns about them afterwards...because Lizzy is the main character of the first book. If you read the books in order it certainly makes sense because you already know her story but I just sat there going 'WHAT?'.
Now if that was my only complaint the book would have gotten a higher rating but even if I imagined that I read it knowing the first book it would still have been bad. Because it is a horrible offender when it comes to 'Show, don't tell' and because in less than 300 pages it has more drama than an average soap-opera has in 3 years.
We are always told that Evie and Will love each other and have an awesome time together and talk about everything. Then we see the marriage-proposal and only afterwards Evie learns that Will used to work as an artist but had to quit because he didn't earn enough. What did they talk about in these awesome meetings? "I love you." - "I love you more." - "No I love you more." over and over again? 'What did you do before you moved here?' isn't exactly a deep dark secret...that's even a question that might come up in a discussion between casual acquaintances so what did our star-crossed lovers discuss that such an ordinary topic never ever came up?
In a similar vein we are told that Evie and Lizzy are great friends (and later Evie and other girls she works with in Flanders) but we rarely see them being friends and that's mainly because of the already mentioned soap-opera level of drama.
I mean you would guess the love-story between Evie and Will and the problems that arise when he can't deal with the horrors of what he sees in the war and tries to shut her on the one side and Evie working as ambulance-driver in Flanders where they also have to deal with bombs, gas-attacks etc. would be enough to fill a book but apparently it isn't. There are also Deep And Dark Family Secrets (TM) that Evie discovers (and then mentions them again only once), terrible things happen to her close friends, just about every soldier she knows is court-martialed or in danger of it, terrible things happen to Evie...it's like the author looked at Word War I and said 'I know that was the bloodiest conflict up to that point, the first time weapons were used that could kill a lot of people from very far away and it left a huge number of people physically and/or mentally scared but that alone just isn't exiting enough'. I never thought that you could have a WWI-novel that is just ridiculously over the top dramatic but this book manages it. And while we're occasionally told that Evie is affected by all this we never see it and anyway if there was a paragraph that talked about how horrible she felt it was usually cut short by...yes! More drama! That also didn't seem to affect her that much longer than one paragraph! And then even more drama! The longer it went the more I expected her just to break down crying because no normal human should have been able to go through all of this without yelling 'LIFE IS UNFAIR AND I HATE EVERYTHING' at least once but she never does. How I am supposed to relate to such a character?
ARC received from NetGalley