Lost Roses: A Novel

Written by Martha Hall Kelly
Review by Julia C. Fischer

Lost Roses is the follow-up to Martha Hall Kelly’s runaway hit of 2016, Lilac Girls. Her newest book is a prequel to Lilac Girls and, like this earlier tome, is divided into three narratives. The first story follows Eliza Ferriday (Caroline Ferriday’s mother), who helps newly settled White Russian refugee women during and after World War I. Eliza aids these women because her best friend, Sofya, a White Russian and cousin to the tsar, is trapped in Russia. The second part details Sofya as she desperately tries to escape Russia and the Revolution. The final section centers on Varinka, a young girl with ties to the Bolsheviks. Varinka was one of Sofya’s servants, and she eventually flees to Paris, taking something of Sofya’s with her.

I absolutely loved Lilac Girls and unfortunately, I was disappointed with Kelly’s prequel (and I acknowledge that I might be in the minority here). First, the book is slow and in need of heavy editing. The three main characters are two-dimensional and unlikable; the secondary characters are even more flat. I could not muster any sympathy for anyone, especially Sofya and the other privileged White Russians. It was disappointing that two of the three characters were completely fictional (Sofya and Varinka).  In addition, I wanted a deeper connection between the three parts of the story. Ultimately, Kelly pigeonholes herself by writing a prequel that had to stick to the format and themes of her earlier hit. Each has symbolic flowers in the title. Each includes a Ferriday woman who is trying to help a disenfranchised group of women while a token bad guy threatens them. Unfortunately, Kelly could not recreate the magic in Lost Roses.