True to Her Heart is the second installment of Martha Schroeder’s trilogy about three women who served with Florence Nightingale in the Crimea. The heroine of the tale is Lucinda Harrowby, a lovely young woman who finds herself in the unenviable position of poor relation. Told by her aunt and uncle that she has no future unless she finds a husband, she concludes that the industrialist Jeffrey Bancroft might be a suitable parti. Then she makes a serious mistake: she speaks her mind.
Bancroft does not respond well to a woman who has her own opinions about world events and who does not defer sweetly to a man’s greater knowledge. Disappointed with Jeffrey’s actions and tired of playing dumb and acting as her aunt’s unpaid housekeeper, Lucinda volunteers to accompany Miss Nightingale. In the hell hole that was Scutari, Lucinda finds herself, not only as a nurse but as a marvelous organizer. She becomes Nightingale’s right hand woman.
Thus, when a wealthy benefactor comes out to Turkey to determine how a large subscription of funds should be used, it is only natural that Nightingale ask Lucinda to show the man around. Yes, it is Jeffrey Bancroft and Lucinda is not happy to see her erstwhile suitor. Jeffrey has come to the war zone in part because of his conversation with Lucinda all those months ago. He had defended the military authorities against her attack then watched as this unusual young woman took up his challenge to act on her beliefs. Her presence in Turkey helped impel him to see for himself.
Unlike the first book in the trilogy which dealt with the situation in the Crimea primarily through flashbacks, True to Her Heart is set both in Turkey and in London. Schroeder describes in detail the awful conditions suffered by the British wounded and the heroic efforts of Nightingale and her nurses to rectify them. She shows the backward looking attitudes of the generals and the inefficiencies of the British military bureaucracy. She even provides a fascinating glimpse of the Turkish court at the time when the “sick man of Europe” was becoming even sicker.
This background material enriches the book and adds to the romance. Jeffrey is a self-made man whose past has left him distrustful of strong, assertive women. He had planned to find a sweet and gentle bride who would behave in a proper fashion. Instead, he finds himself fascinated by a woman of strong opinions, unconventional attitudes, and “unnatural” actions. Even when he admits that he loves Lucinda, he has a hard time imagining himself married to her.
Lucinda has had enough of playing the traditional role of a Victorian woman. She has learned to value her own abilities with Miss Nightingale and she is not about to marry a man who will not accept her as she really is, no matter how much she loves him. She will be “true to her heart” and to herself.
Schroeder interweaves the characters from the previous book and from the upcoming book seamlessly into her story. Interesting, this is not a sequel, but is a parallel story. Just as Lucinda and Jeffrey were players in the first book, so too are Catherine and her doctor important figures in the second story. This is an interesting way to write interrelated books. I think I can say with some conviction that True to Her Heart can easily be read without being familiar with the first book, but my memory of the first story enriched my reading of the second.
My attitude about history in historical romances is well known. I prefer books where historical events are more than mere wallpaper and where the characters are not transported folk from the 21st century. True to Her Heart meets my criteria for good historical romance. The history is important, the characters seem like people who lived in the 19th century and the romance works very nicely, thank-you. All in all, True to Her Heart is a good historical romance.