When I saw the cover for Mercy Road by Ann Howard Creely on NetGalley, from the same publishing house that published one of my favourite books of this year, The Beantown Girls, I knew I had to read it. Instead of being about women helping during World War II, this one was about women ambulance drivers, doctors and nurses near the end of World War I in France. I was hoping for a story that stuck with me as much as Fiona’s, and I was excited to dig right in.
Inspired by the true story of the World War I American Women’s Hospital, Mercy Road is a novel about love, courage, and a female ambulance driver who risks everything.
In 1917, after Arlene Favier’s home burns to the ground, taking her father with it, she must find a way to support her mother and younger brother. If she doesn’t succeed, they will all be impoverished. Job opportunities are scarce, but then a daring possibility arises: the American Women’s Hospital needs ambulance drivers to join a trailblazing, all-female team of doctors and nurses bound for war-torn France.
On the front lines, Arlene and her fellow ambulance drivers work day and night to aid injured soldiers and civilians. In between dangerous ambulance runs, Arlene reunites with a childhood friend, Jimmy Tucker, now a soldier, who opens her heart like no one before. But she has also caught the attention of Felix Brohammer, a charismatic army captain who harbors a dark, treacherous secret.
To expose Brohammer means risking her family’s future and the promise of love. Arlene must make a choice: stay in the safety of silence or take the greatest chance of her life.
I’m not sure if it’s because I had high expectations, but this story didn’t connect with me at all. I found I couldn’t relate to Arlene, I didn’t get a sense of the danger and the destruction surrounding her and her team, and I was a little disappointed in the ending—even though it was a happy one.
Let me start with the good: I definitely learned a lot about how women did what they could to join the war efforts during World War I, which is something I knew nothing about. Their bravery and dedication really did help many people survive, and they did it all while fighting the usual women-can’t-do-anything-properly vibe of the era. And as a woman, I felt empowered.
Unfortunately, it kind of ends there. The side drama with Brohammer’s shadiness was interesting, but didn’t really go anywhere, and I could guess Cass’s “secret” right from the get-go. And then there was Arlene’s relationship with Jimmy. It just seemed too easy. Sure, there was something that happened that tore them apart, but it wasn’t that exciting, and they ended up together in the end anyway. He really didn’t want that, so I was disappointed that there was no compromise in their relationship in that way.
And my biggest sticking point was that there wasn’t really any damage to anyone on Arlene’s direct team of Red Cross women (unless I missed it, which is possible because I was skimming at times). All the major players survived, despite them spending time on the front line. I just didn’t find that believable.
I really, really wanted to love this. I did. But maybe I just wasn’t in the right place to dig in properly.
“‘We’re living in a world that still doesn’t know what to do with free-thinking, smart women. This is our chance to change that.” —Ann Howard Creel, Mercy Road
Thank you to NetGalley and Lake Union Publishing for the advanced copy.