Title: The Ship of Brides
Author: Jojo Moyes
Release Date: October 28 (North America, already available in the UK)
Source: Penguin Group on NetGalley (A copy of this book was provided to me in exchange for an honest review.)
Check out this book on Goodreads.
Preorder this book at: Book Depository
The year is 1946, and all over the world, young women are crossing the seas in the thousands en route to the men they married in wartime – and an unknown future. In Sydney, Australia, four women join 650 other brides on an extraordinary voyage to England, aboard the HMS Victoria, which also carries not just arms and aircraft but 1,000 naval officers and men. Rules of honour, duty, and separation are strictly enforced, from the aircraft carrier’s captain down to the lowliest young stoker. But the men and the brides will find their lives intertwined in ways the Navy could never have imagined. (Source: Goodreads)
The Ship of Brides follows 4 women, and 2 men on an aircraft carrier on the way from Australia to England transporting war brides to their husbands at the end of WWII. The 4 women are among the wives on the ship, Jean a teenager, Avice a society woman, Margaret a farmers daughter, and Frances a nurse. The story is, in my opinion, primarily about Frances and Margaret. The two men work on the ship, Highfield is the captain, and Nicol is a marine. The story follows these 6 lives in the weeks leading up to the journey, through the journey, and, in some cases, to years after the journey.
I found this book hugely interesting for a number of reasons. First, I enjoy historical fiction. I wasn’t super aware of the fact that I like historical fiction, but I seem to enjoy it, especially well-researched historical fiction, which was definitely the case for this one. Second, this story was inspired by Jojo’s own grandmother’s experiences aboard an actual war bride ship, so there’s certainly an element of personal connection to the content which makes the story really interesting.
In terms of characters, I found Frances and Margaret especially interesting characters. Every character in the book is so well written, with lots of depth and a sense of personal history to them, but Frances, Margaret, and Nicol are definitely characters that you connect with a lot more, and whose journey the book really seems to be centered on. Margaret’s struggle with her pregnancy and her fears about being married to a man she barely knows really ring true, and all the anxiety she feels comes across really well. Frances is one of the most complicated figure in the book, her personal history is more of a puzzle which comes back to haunt her. The fact that you know so little about her for most of the book could have been annoying, but actually just created a lot of intrigue. Nicol is sort of the “romantic figure” in the book, which was pretty excellent. The love story that develops is really beautiful and I really enjoyed it, especially because it really snuck up on me, and I was not expecting it.
Speaking of the love story, it really surprised me. I didn’t know what to expect with Moyes, I knew her books focused on romance, so I was kind of expecting the book to be focused on one of the women on board and on this romance, maybe in the past, between her and her husband but that wasn’t really the case. I mean, yes there are flashbacks to the development of Margaret and Joe’s relationship especially, but these aren’t really the romance that sweeps you off your feet. Nicol and Frances’s relationship really surprises and amazes you. The tension in the final few chapters as the relationship finally builds up is stunning and creates the perfect sort of climax to the book. Chapters like Chapter 26 really took my breath away because I was so rooting for Nicol and Frances and so worried for what would become of them at the end of this journey. Nicol is definitely someone you fall for.
The romance, it turns out, is not the key thing for most of the book. Instead it’s the non-romantic relationships that really create the content of the book which holds you and makes you keep reading. The relationships between the four women, their families, and their interior selves are all really well written and well developed. For a long time I was convinced there would be no romance, and I didn’t even care because the relationships already developed between Frances, Jean, Margaret, and Avice were really enough for me. I enjoyed the stories about the women’s lives and about the world of the ship. This was all heavily researched and created a really good sense of the past and of the reality which inspired the novel.
I highly recommend this book, even to people who aren’t big fans of love stories, because it’s the other stories that really move the story forward. This is a book that surprised me with how fiercely I began to enjoy it, and has definitely made me want to read more books by Moyes. I will definitely buy this when it’s released in North America.