Book Review for “Mercy Road” by Ann Howard Creel.
The fire that burned down Arlene Favier’s home, and killed her father, changed everything for her. Now she and her family have to rebuild their lives, but all they have left is the land where their horse farm sat near Paris, Kentucky, the few horses they have, and the stables to house them. All Arlene knows how to do is breed horses, and her only other talents are her ability to speak French fluently, and drive a car. When trying to find a job to support them all, she gets recruited to become an ambulance driver in France, at the height of “Great War” in Europe. The only thing standing between them and abject poverty is if Arlene can survive the war to its end, and return home with enough pay to start up the family business again, and that’s exactly what Arlene intends to do, not knowing what she’s about to face.
Before reading this book, I did know a tiny bit about the American Women’s Hospital work in France during the first World War, but not much to be honest. This is exactly what Creel has decided to reveal to readers through this novel, and I was very pleased to see how nicely Creel combined the facts and history with a very believable fictional character and the hellish conditions of that war. As we historical fiction lovers know, sometimes the history becomes too prominent, and sometimes it gets lost in these stories, but I think Creel hit the balance perfectly here. This is no surprise since, although this is the first of Creel’s novels I’ve read, she’s apparently quite the dab hand at historical fiction, with four other adult novels (and some YA and Middle Grade books) already under her belt.
Mind you, there were a couple things that didn’t sit completely right with me. First of all, the romance. My regular readers will know that I’m not really into romance novels. That said, while I really don’t think this book qualifies to be included in that genre, I have to say that the romantic element here was actually a touch underwhelming in this instance. Yes, really – strange, right? What I’m saying is that the romantic element here came out of the blue, with just the tiniest bit of a hint of it in the first chapters of the book. The thing is, that early hint was so subtle that when this familiar guy shows up so much later in the book, I had completely forgotten about him. Now, if Creel had brought him back earlier, or played him up a tiny bit more when he appears earlier on, I might not have been so blindsided by that arc of the story. That said, I liked that relationship a whole lot, and it made sense. As for the other thing that I was unhappy with, that would be how the conflict with the book’s antagonist ended, which I found unsatisfying. I’d say more but then I’d be delving into the spoiler zone, and you know I’d never do that!
What I really liked here was how Creel drew Arlene as a character. Here’s a young woman who is basically a victim of circumstance, and who lived a mostly sheltered life, when suddenly reality hits her square in the face and leaves her adrift in the world to make her way, totally unprepared. The fact that she seems to be so resilient, so able to adapt, and so able to cope with the horrors around her seem very believable. What’s more, Arlene doesn’t really know how much inner strength she actually has until she needs to call upon it when things get tough. Creel did a beautiful job of making Arlene into a quiet hero, the type of woman who cares so much, she doesn’t know her own bravery. I especially liked how Arlene saw through the bravado and charm of Creel’s antagonist right away. This also means that Creel did an excellent job of portraying him as the smarmy bastard he was, and infusing him with the types of aspects that make him scary as well.
Finally, Creel’s writing style is also another plus for this book. While there are passages here where the descriptions of France are highly lyrical, most of the text is very straightforward, with some of the more graphic parts of working near the front lines getting a darker feel to them. While this might sound like it was inconsistent, I can assure you that the transitions allowed a good balance between the horrors of war and the types of positive things people did to relieve what suffering they could for both the soldiers and civilians caught up in the fighting. In fact, I think there was an overall hopeful tone to this book, which I liked very much. For this, I think Creel’s book deserves to be recommended for lovers of historical fiction and the WWI era, with a healthy four out of five stars.
Lake Union Publishing released “Mercy Road” by Ann Howard Creel on November 19, 2019. This book is available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Walmart (Kobo) US eBooks and audiobooks, the website eBooks.com, iTunes (iBook or audiobook), Wordery or The Book Depository (both with free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), or Thriftbooks.com, as well as from an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel via NetGalley.