A Mosaic of Wings

Written by Kimberly Duffy
Review by J. Lynn Else

“You are who you are for a reason.”

1885. Nora Shipley is infuriated by what her stepfather has done to her father’s journal. Before his death, Nora shared a love of entomology with her father. Now, she’s a top contender to earn a scholarship in pursuit of her master’s degree. To increase her chances, Nora embarks on a research expedition to India. However, fellow top contender Owen Epps will also be on the expedition. He turns out to be an unexpected ally when the expedition leader confines Nora to illustrations instead of field work. There’s no room for error, because if she loses the scholarship, she also loses the chance of taking over her father’s journal and living an independent life. However, Nora’s involvement in a cultural faux pas, as she intervenes to save a young girl from temple prostitution, could irrevocably jeopardize her future.

As Nora pursues what she loves, she embodies a relatable sense of duty to her father’s legacy and over her fragile mother’s care. She has few allies in the academic world while stepping outside of society’s expected role for her life. The excursions through the Indian landscape and late 1800s Ithaca, New York, are well detailed and enchanting. Nora does investigate other arthropod species (I’m looking at you, arachnids—while also staying at a safe distance), but the narrative focuses on her fascination and appreciation of said creatures, thus limiting my usual reaction to creepy crawlers. Nora’s and Owen’s budding romance adds depth to Nora’s struggles while also providing an ally so the narrative doesn’t become too one-sided (i.e., too women-versus-men focused). The stakes are high, and so are the emotions surrounding the choices Nora makes. The book had its hooks in me early on with its trailblazing female lead and her captivating uphill climb. Recommended.