Desert Isle Keeper
Two Wars and a Wedding
In Two Wars and a Wedding, Lauren Willig explores two wars which don’t get a ton of attention in fiction – the Greco-Turkish war of 1896 and the Spanish American War. Both are seen from the PoV of a single woman who finds herself nursing troops while also fostering her dreams of being an archeologist.
After gaininging her degree in archaeology from Smith College, Betsy Hayes has recently gained her degree in archaeology from Smith College. She heads to a dig in Greece, where she immediately runs into sexist politics that threaten to curtail her work. In the face of this misogyny, there appears to be no way forward for Betsy, but she is determined to keep at her dream. When conflict breaks out between Greece and Turkey, Betsy volunteers to work as a nurse for the Greek side, and at the same time, embarks on a difficult romance with a married man. She finds herself dealing with the horror of war, the glory-free aspects of battle, and the nightmare of being understaffed and undersupplied. She hopes her best friend, the poorer-of-means Ava Saltonstall, might be able to join her in the field, but when Ava arrives things become strained, especially when moral and class struggles set in…
By the time of the Spanish American War, Betsy has joined the troop of nurses trying to protect Cuban soldiers from Spanish invaders – and is world-weary. A chatty, ambitious reporter from St. Louis, Katherine “Kit” Carson, and “Hold ‘Em” Holt, one of Teddy Roosevelt’s battle-scarred Rough Riders, are among the new faces she encounters. Betsy had set out intending to keep Ava from arriving on the island as a volunteer, especially after the traumatic experiences she’d endured in Greece, and finds herself clashing with officials and dealing with the collateral damage from her experiences in Greece – including severe PTSD. When she ends up working on the Seneca – understaffed, under-supplied, and ruled over by drunken officials – all seems lost. Will Betsy make it out of Cuba alive?
We do indeed get a wedding in Two Wars and a Wedding, though it doesn’t make it onto the page. I won’t spoil the revelation as to which of the girls gets married and why, but before that there is a greatly tragic romance, followed by one of great equals. Indeed, the book’s greatest love story is arguably between Betsy and Ava, whose friendship is a storied thing that goes through peaks and valleys and centers much of the book until it shifts to focus on the bond between Betsy, Kit and Holt. But as always, the trip is engrossing and wonderful to read, with realistic research into the hell of pre-World War I battlefront living and nursing. Lauren Willig writes such well-researched, breathlessly told historical fiction it’s easy to get caught up in.
Betsy is not a perfect person by a long shot, and her flaws are realistic. While Ava fears taking a real chance with her life due to her poverty and responsibilities back home, spoiled Betsy has to learn the hard way that shirking her lessons and ignoring warning signs are not a good idea. Betsy grows up throughout the book and it’s wonderful to follow her on that journey.
The book is filled with the incompetence of officials who seek to undercut and smugly underplay the women around them, so if you want to escape sexism this isn’t going to be the book for you. Incompetent soldiers blaming their foolishness on “female hysteria”? Male doctors who think women can’t be doctors or archeologists? Check. All realistic and well-handled, and combatted by the brilliance of the women in this book.
But there’s one little bit that keeps me from giving a flat-out A grade. The dual timeline, told out of order and alternating between the past and present, is absolutely unnecessary – there’s barely a year lost between each war, and the Spanish-American war chapters only serve to conceal things that need not be kept from the reader’s eye in an effort to preserve surprise. Instead of alternating timelines it could have easily been a story told in order to maintain the book’s strong pace, but the timeline switches aren’t confusing, just irritating.
Otherwise, as always, Willig is a marvel. Two Wars and a Wedding is a two-hankie affair worth its salt water.
Lisa Fernandes is a writer, reviewer and recapper who lives somewhere on the East Coast. Formerly employed by Firefox.org and Next Projection, she also currently contributes to Women Write About Comics. Read her blog at http://thatbouviergirl.blogspot.com/, follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/thatbouviergirl or contribute to her Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/MissyvsEvilDead or her Ko-Fi at ko-fi.com/missmelbouvier
|Review Date:||March 21, 2023|
|Book Type:||Historical Fiction | Women's Fiction|
I’ve been waiting for this one. So glad to see your review!
Hope you like it!