This second book by Kerri Turner, Daughter of Victory Lights (her first was The Last Days of the Romanov Dancers), is an exquisite, heart-aching tale of love, loss, rejection and connection all set against the backdrop of firstly, London during the Blitz and, later, the post war years and early sixties.
Evelyn Bell is a young woman who rejects the roles and path society and her times insist upon for her. Determined to carve her own future and contribute to the war effort, against her family’s wishes, Evelyn joins the first all-woman Searchlight Squadron, tasked with the dangerous job of tracking enemy planes so they may be shot out of the sky or, alternately, helping friendly planes to land. It is a fraught exercise and not merely because of the terrible personal peril the women put themselves in, but because the women know that in saving the lives of many, they also end the lives of a few and destroy family forever. In the end, war has no victors.
It is family that lies at the heart of this tale, that and the way war irrevocably alters both the social and personal fabric of our lives. Unable to settle back into “routine” in the aftermath of the war, Evelyn seeks, yet again, a different life. This time, she finds herself working the lights on The Victory, a ship which sits in different waters and offers entertainment like no other. It’s here that Evelyn meets her future, only it’s one that no-one, least of all Evelyn, anticipates…
Not only does Turner recreate London during the war and the stifling social and other mores (and attempts to disrupt and overturn them) of the time in a beautiful fashion, she breathes life into those who found theirs shattered. Whether it’s a US soldier tasked with retrieving bodies (the melancholic and heart-wrenching Grave Regiment) and giving them dignified burials, or those who for a variety of reasons find themselves displaced or wishing to hide, the reader is drawn into a world like no other and champions those who dwell in it. Our hearts alternately ache and are lifted in response to what happens as we witness to those who bravely forge ahead or those who simply cannot and are doomed to repeat a cycle of despair and guilt, as they’re locked in an emotional and psychological prison.
Family comes under scrutiny in the novel. Here, it comes in familiar and different guises and its often the family which we create ourselves where the strongest bonds are formed, even out of tragedy. Add to this the marvellous burlesque/circus-like show that those on The Victory perform each night and what they have to do to sustain their performances and each other, and we have a rich, satisfying and utterly captivating novel.
The writing is lovely, the historical backdrop and details beautifully rendered, never once dominating the story, but giving it depth and authenticity – the sign of a master storyteller at work. Not only was I riveted by this story (and wept and laughed and hurt), but I learned about an aspect of history that I didn’t know. I also loved that though Kerry foregrounds women and their varied lives, aspirations, triumphs and failures, she does so with empathy, truth and an acknowledgment of the good and not so good men and women who either aid them on their journeys or cross their paths only to trip them or prevent them moving forward. Fabulous characters in an utterly satisfying story that will leave you feeling fulfilled and wanting more.
Next book, please, Kerri!!!