REVIEW: The Daughter of Victory Lights by Kerri Turner

In brief: After the war, Evie couldn’t go back to the confines of her normal life. Joining the entertainment ship Victory, is fun but one night changes the lives of the entire cast.

The good: Unique setting to tell an interesting story.

The not-so-good: Lucy’s section of the story occasionally lost momentum.

Why I chose it: Enjoy historical fiction, particularly things I don’t know much about. Thanks to Harlequin for the ARC.

Year: 2020

Pages: 363 (ARC)

Publisher: HQ (Harper Collins)

Setting: England and Europe

Rating: 8 out of 10

The Daughter of Victory Lights is a novel that takes the reader on a journey through less well-known parts of history, tied up in a story of love, loss, restriction and ultimately, freedom. It shines a light on the roles of women during World War II and the aftermath felt by those who returned, restless for a life that served purpose but continued to haunt them.

Evelyn Bell is one of those characters. Determined to do her bit during World War II, she becomes part of a searchlight team made up exclusively of women who try and prevent the enemy from bombing the people of England. It’s a job that is both important and devastating – shining a light on the enemy so the individuals in those aeroplanes can be killed – but gives Evelyn a sense of importance and freedom. After using her skills to find survivors during air raid bombings, returning home to be the dutiful sister lacks spark and Evelyn dreams of lights and their power A meeting with a fire eating performer finds her watching a show set on a ship in a rowboat which ultimately has her joining the cast of the Victory. A floating entertainment show of magic, dance, acrobatics and burlesque gives Evie a sense of purpose as she works to light up the performers in the most appropriate way. She also finds camaraderie with the cast, all a type of outcast from a ‘normal’ life. It’s freedom, but it has its own costs that end up in tragedy. That’s where the story jumps ahead a decade to find Lucy, a lonely little girl who is rescued from her mean aunt to live on an island with some strange characters. All she wants is to meet her father and form enough of a relationship with him so that she won’t be sent back to London. But what of her mother?

I really enjoyed Evie’s story because of the strength of her character and the interesting aspects of her history. Women running searchlight teams hasn’t really been well explored in fiction (or at least the books I’ve come across) but it was fascinating, particularly because of the human cost that Evelyn ruminates on. The sense of restlessness that she and other members of the Victory are left with after the war is completely understandable. The PTSD experienced by ex-army men Flynn and Alvin is dealt with sensitively, but doesn’t shy away from the lasting issues it leaves the men with. Flynn is too scared to get close to anyone and neither of them sleep well. The Victory acts as a refuge for all of them with others who understand, but don’t judge. The ship is a symbol of the sense of freedom and the breaking of taboos that was only temporary during the war. The content of the shows is outside the censorship laws with content that gets the audience into the water by any means possible. (However, the business plan of ‘pay what you think it’s worth’ isn’t really economically sound, as the characters later find out).

Lucy’s story took me longer to get used to, mainly because I was rather attached to Evie. The jump from an adult as the main character to a child was a brave one, and it ultimately pays off as the gap between Evie and Lucy is gradually shaded in. Lucy’s story also allows for more page time to be given to supporting characters Humphrey, ringleader and magician of the Victory and Bee, singer and star attraction. Seeing them through Lucy’s eyes adds a new perspective and adds detail to their own stories. (I think Bee deserves her own book though, as she’s had a fascinating life that has given back to so many others).

Overall, The Daughter of Victory Lights is an entertaining read, covering extreme happiness and sadness as it follows characters who simply cannot go back to their normal pre-war lives.

This is one of the novels in the Herstory collection about women who rebel through history. Click on the banner to find out more about the included titles.

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