Book Review for “The Call of the Wrens” by Jenni L. Walsh.
Summary: “An orphan who spent her youth without a true home, Marion Hoxton found in the Great War something other than destruction. She discovered a chance to belong. As a member of the Women’s Royal Naval Service—the Wrens—Marion gained sisters. She found purpose in her work as a motorcycle dispatch rider assigned to train and deliver carrier pigeons to the front line. And despite the constant threat of danger, she and her childhood friend Eddie began to dream of a future together. Until the battle that changed everything. Now twenty years later, another war has broken out across Europe, calling Marion to return to the fight. Meanwhile others, like twenty-year-old society girl Evelyn Fairchild, hear the call for the first time. For Evelyn, serving in the war is a way to prove herself after a childhood fraught with surgeries and limitations from a disability. The re-formation of the Wrens as World War II rages is the perfect opportunity to make a difference in the world at seventy miles per hour.”
Age: Adult; Genres: Literary, Women, Fiction; Settings: Historical – WWI and WWII; England and France; Other Categories: Novel, Coming of Age.
Well, talk about your versatility. This is the third book I’ve read by Walsh and I can’t say that either of the other two are like this one at all. The first were both historical, biographical fiction novels, but this one is just historical. While those two centered on one specific time-frame, this one has two timelines. Ah, I hear you saying, yes, it is true, I’ve come to dislike dual timelines… however (and this is a VERY big HOWEVER) I have been known to enjoy them IF they’re done right and there’s a very good reason for them both. Well, needless to say, if you’ve noticed my rating below, you’ll already know that I believe there was a very good reason to have both timelines in this book, most importantly because they needed to come together at one point. That’s not a spoiler, by the way. Once you’ve read just the first couple of chapters, you’ll realize this right away. Still, if I say much more than this, then it will become a spoiler, so I’ll shut up about that.
So, here we have two women. First, there’s Marion, who grew up all her life in orphanages. When she just turns 18 and is about to be thrown out of the system, she signs up with the Wrens during the Great War. Her only friend in the orphanage is also almost too old to stay, so he lies about his age to go into the Royal Navy to stay close with her. Then there’s Evelyn. We learn early on that she’s led a sheltered life, mostly because of a birth defect that caused her parents to dote on her to protect her from the world. But even a spoiled young woman can become a rebel, and Evelyn started early by racing cars. However, the onset of WWII closes down her race track, but then she finds out that the Wrens need dispatch carriers, so she runs away from home to join up.
I believe that Walsh really fell head over heels in love with Marion, because for the first ¾ of the book, we get a whole lot more about Marion’s life, and much less about Evelyn. Not that we don’t get enough of Evelyn, but she does seem to get outweighed by Marion. This is something that happens often in dual timeline books, where one character or timeline seems to get more focus than the other. However, once you realize why Walsh needed both timelines, you’ll understand why it was done in this manner. I’m telling you this because I don’t want readers who are a bit bored with dual timelines to dismiss this book out of hand for only this reason. Both stories are important, but you won’t understand why until you’ve read enough of this book, so stick with it, please.
Now, the best thing about this book is that Walsh is a very talented writer. As I mentioned above, this doesn’t read anything like the other two of her books I’ve read. What I mean by this is that Walsh really knows how to set up the atmosphere with her writing style. With Bonnie (of ‘and Clyde’) there was a clear feeling of the dustbowl era, and the gold rush era with Madame Moustache. Here, we feel this is very much the eras of the two world wars. Added to that, the fact that we’re also learning about an aspect of both world wars that hasn’t been written about before – the WRNS, or Wrens and in particular, the women who were dispatch riders. (If you want to learn more about the use of carrier pigeons during WWI, you can read Kathleen Rooney’s novel “Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey.”)
All told, this was a really lovely novel, which I truly enjoyed, and where the dual timeline was very nicely done, and worked well for the story. Mind you, there was no small amount of romance here, but I don’t think it got too much in the way of the story. Thankfully, neither Evelyn nor Marion were the types of women whose whole lives depended on having a man in their lives. I can certainly recommend this book very warmly (although I must admit that Walsh’s “A Betting Woman” is still my favorite), and give it 4.75 stars out of five (rounded up to 5 for the graphic).
Harper Muse released “The Call of the Wrens” by Jenni L. Walsh on November 15, 2022. This book is available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, Blackwell‘s, Foyles, The Book Depository UK and Book Depository US (both with free worldwide delivery), Waterstones, WHSmith, Wordery UK and Wordery US, Kobo US (eBooks and audiobooks), the website eBooks.com, Booksamillion.com, iTunes (iBooks and audiobooks), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org and UK.Bookshop (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) or an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel via NetGalley.