In the Shadow of the Lamp, by Susanne Dunlap, was published in 2011 by Bloomsbury.
It’s 1854, and 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 Florence Nightingale and her nurses in the Crimea, the promise of a new start—and perhaps even adventure—is too tempting to pass up. The work is grueling, the hospital conditions are deplorable, and Miss Nightingale proves to be a demanding leader. But before long, tending to sick and wounded British solders becomes more than just a mission of mercy; it becomes a mission of the heart when Molly finds that she’s falling in love with not one, but two young men. With the battle raging ever nearer, one of the men will fall victim to the great guns. Will it be the dashing young doctor who sees molly as more than just one of Nightingale’s nurses or the foot soldier who has left everything behind and joined the army to be near to her?
I should have known from the summary that In the Shadow of the Lamp would be a rough ride. It doesn’t even try to hide the love triangle romance. And it’s the worst kind of love triangle, with the unoriginal “Old Friend vs. Exciting Newcomer” (where 90% of the time the Old Friend wins) and with the protagonist thinking how much she loves her Old Friend, then when she meets the Newcomer is convinced that her Old Friend is just a friend and that she really loves the Newcomer, and then realizes at the end that the Old Friend was the one she loved the whole time, really.
And most of the time for these sorts of love triangles I always root for the Newcomer to win because they almost never do. They turn out to be cads and/or die.
So, yes, I was very unhappy with the love triangle. But the historical aspect of the novel was actually quite good. I liked the portrayal of Florence Nightingale and the realization the novel gives as to how profoundly she affected nursing during the Crimean War. And the bits on the actual nursing were good, too.
The one thing I didn’t understand was why Dunlap decided to throw in some sort of odd mysticism/fantastic element to the whole nursing thing. Was it just to stay true to the people who were present during the war or what? The whole “healing hands” thing was weird from start to finish. And it also made Maggie one of those protagonists who a.) everybody ends up liking and b.) has some sort of special insight into a topic that she beforehand knew nothing about. And her waffling between Will and Doctor Maclean was annoying, especially since I didn’t buy her romance with Will one bit.
In the Shadow of the Lamp is decent historical fiction, but has a terrible love triangle romance and the protagonist has too many flaws in terms of characterization. I liked the look at the Crimean War, but I could have done without everything else attached.
Recommended Age Range: 14+
Genre: Historical Fiction, Young Adult
“These are the men who were just admitted last night,” Dr. Menzies said.
As my eyes became accustomed to the half light, I could make out shapes writhing on the floor. “Shapes” was all I could think to call them. Human bodies so mixed together and covered with blood and gore it seemed I was looking at a single creature.
“The wards are above. If you’ll follow me.”
We picked our way gingerly through the men on the floor to a staircase. Maybe upstairs in a proper ward there would be more order. My hopes didn’t last long. I heard Miss Nightingale exclaim before I reached the top of the staircase, “But there are no beds! And the linens are filthy. The stink is abominable. What is that surgeon over there doing?”