In the Shadow of the Lamp

Written by Susanne Dunlap
Review by Ann Pedtke

When Molly is framed for a crime she didn’t commit, she is forced to leave her housemaid position in London and part with her childhood friend Will. Hearing that Florence Nightingale is recruiting nurses to travel to the Crimea as part of the war effort, Molly finagles a place on the mission. But conditions overseas are harsher than Molly expected, and she finds that it is difficult to follow Miss Nightingale’s strict rules and do her duty – especially when Will reappears as a patient, and a handsome young doctor begins to praise Molly’s medical skills.

This book tackles a period seldom featured in YA historical novels, and paints a compelling portrait of the woman who brought about so many advances in nursing and medicine. However, the plot does not have the sophistication of Dunlap’s earlier novels. Things fall into place a little too easily for Molly, and it stretches credulity that she is able to dodge recruiting criteria, stow away to the Crimea, and then continue to flout regulations while miraculously staying in everyone’s good graces. In addition, Dunlap misses the opportunity to make the foreign setting come alive: with the exception of a few token observations, most of the action takes place in an amorphous setting that could be anywhere in the Western world, and the politics of the Crimean War are never addressed in any depth.

Despite these disappointments – and despite the supernatural aspect introduced late in the story, which I found to be unnecessary and rather jarring – the book was very nearly redeemed by the surprising emotional charge of the final chapters. Just when I thought the plot had become completely predictable, Dunlap proved that she could surprise me. I hope that her next book shows this much verve from start to finish.