Monday, May 9, 2011

ESCAPE TO THE PAST WITH: In the Shadow of the Lamp by Susanne Dunlap

One of my heroes when I was young was Florence Nightingale (along with Clara Barton.) I was fascinated with biographies of these women who devoted their lives to medicine, to nursing, when the profession was emerging into its modern form. When I heard about Susanne Dunlap’s new book, In the Shadow of the Lamp, I knew I had to read it.

Set in 1854, the story follows Molly, a seventeen-year-old housekeeper who loses her position through the trickery of one of the other maids. Desperate for work, she is excited to hear that Florence Nightingale is looking to hire nurses to take to the Crimea to care for British soldiers. Molly's gift of compassion makes her a born nurse. But Molly isn’t hired. She’s too young, too pretty, and has no hospital nursing experience. Nevertheless, she manages to stowaway on the boat carrying the other nurses. After she is discovered, Miss Nightingale agrees to give her a chance.

Although fraternization with the soldiers is strictly forbidden, Molly nevertheless succumbs to the temptation. In fact, she is torn between two men. One is the boy who has loved her and aided her since she was a disgraced housemaid. He has joined the army and followed her to the Crimea. With Will, she feels safety and comfort. The other is a surgeon who teaches and challenges her. Dr. Maclean offers excitement and romance. But Molly has to tread carefully. She can’t risk being sent home—Miss Nightingale’s rule are very strict. And it is wartime. The men she loves are in constant danger.

The book does a nice job illustrating the horrible conditions of the hospitals and demonstrates Nightingale’s strengths as a wartime nursing administrator. Molly is a delightful protagonist, growing in confidence and competence as the story progresses. She has a knack for making herself useful at the right time and place. She idolizes Miss Nightingale, but is independent minded enough to break the rules when they need breaking.

In the Shadow of the Lamp is an enjoyable young adult historical, well paced, with interesting period detail. Although there was not much historical context regarding the war, it was a nice introduction to a time period I don’t generally think too much about. And I was very pleased to be reintroduced to a heroine from my youth.

I read this for the YA historical fiction challenge. Go to YA Bliss to see what the challenge is all about.


  1. I've seen quite a few advance reviews of this one and it does sound interesting. YA historical fiction is becoming big news now, isn't it?

  2. That sounds a very interesting book Susan, I can certainly see why you were keen to read it. Florence Nightingale was an astonishing woman, I'd like to learn more about her.