France, 1944. Deep in the river valley of the Dordogne, in an old stone cottage on the edge of a beautiful village, three sisters long for the end of the war.
Hélène, the eldest, is trying her hardest to steer her family to safety, even as the Nazi occupation becomes more threatening. Elise, the rebel, is determined to help the Resistance, whatever the cost. And Florence, the dreamer, just yearns for a world where France is free.
Then, one dark night, the Allies come knocking for help. And Helene knows that she cannot sit on the sidelines any longer. But bravery comes at a cost, and soon the sisters’ lives become even more perilous as they fight for what is right.
Daughters of War is the start of a new series from Dinah Jefferies who changes her focus from Asia to war torn Europe to tell the story of the Baudin sisters who have been living in their family cottage in the Dordogne during the German occupation. Helene, the eldest, has taken over the role of their absent mother and is determined to keep her sisters safe, often at the expense of her own happiness. Helene contributes to the war effort by nursing and she works with the local doctor, Hugo Marchant, and his wife, Marie, who have become almost like foster parents to the sisters. Helene isn’t a risk-taker and is growing more concerned about her sister, Elise, who has become involved with the local resistance.
Elise, the most headstrong of the sisters, uses her cafe as a letterbox for the Maquis, rural guerrilla bands of French Resistance fighters, who are disrupting German supply lines. As Elise is drawn deeper into the resistance, she falls in love with one of their leaders but heartbreak is just around the corner. Most of Elise’s involvement with the resistance takes place off the page which is a great pity as it would have added a much needed dose of suspense. Apparently, the real Maquis used the networks of natural caves around the Dordogne as hideouts but again this is barely mentioned and is a missed opportunity. Florence, the youngest and most sensitive of the sisters, spends most of her time in her garden and has a great affinity for the natural world. She is so adept at exploiting the abundance of nature, they have plenty of little luxuries such as herbs for their food and fragrance for their home-made soap.
The descriptive passages are the best part of this book as the glorious landscape is brought to life and you can almost visualise yourself amongst the flowers and trees. The sisters walk about the countryside a lot which gives Jefferies plenty of opportunity to work her descriptive muscles, however the untouched loveliness also makes it harder to believe they are in the midst of a war. A quick search online uncovers the many atrocities the Germans inflicted on the Dordogne, including the shooting of 99 people in the village of Tulle near our fictional village, however it is merely mentioned in passing. There is no mention of the 205 children that were amongst the 642 people killed at Oradour-sur-Glane the following day. The village where the sisters live is remarkably peaceful in comparison and the Germans only appear when the plot demands it.
While the sisters seems to be living remarkably free of hardship, their idyllic life is interrupted with episodes of brutality that should shock the reader but they were curiously void of emotional depth for me. One particular attack changes everything for the sisters and they find it hard regaining their equilibrium, however it is only the start of a series of events which forces them to acknowledge the world is a darker place than it was before. Helene, Elise and Florence are all pushed out of their respective comfort zones and forced to stand up for what they believe in but it may be too late.
I felt quite ambivalent about this story because I wanted to like it so much but it struggled to hold my interest. There were also quite a few editing errors in the book which was a bit unusual for this author but I’m chalking it up to pandemic haze.