Band of Angels

Written by Julia Gregson
Review by Elizabeth Caulfield Felt

As a child, Catherine Carreg is cared for by neighbors, as her own mother is often bedridden. Catherine and the neighbor’s boy, Deio, spend their days riding horses across the Welsh countryside, pushing each other in wild and dangerous exploits. At sixteen, Catherine’s parents decide that the son of a drover is not proper company for their daughter, and Catherine is prohibited from continuing the friendship. Indignant but submissive, Catherine is forced to pursue the domestic chores necessary to young ladies who will one day be wives.

When Catherine is eighteen, her oft-depressed mother dies during childbirth. Catherine is the only one home, doesn’t know what to do, and is unable to save her mother. Vowing to find meaning in her life, Catherine leaves Wales for London, running away from both her family and her soulmate, Deio, to become a nurse. In the early 1850s, nursing is considered a disreputable task performed by whores and drunks, and nobody understands her decision. Catherine finds a position with Florence Nightingale and soon follows her to Scutari and the Crimean War.

This is a novel where the setting is an actual character; the cold, the dirt, the smell and the pain of the places Catherine travels create as much conflict as any of the human characters. For me, it is the setting that lingers after the last page is turned. Gregson is one of today’s best writers in her ability to bring a time and place to life. In fact, Catherine’s unbearable world is so alive, it is sometimes too much to take. For those times, Gregson delivers Deio, the handsome, the confused, and Catherine’s one true love, who follows her to war while making his own journey of discovery.