He lifted his head and, for a strange moment, he thought that all the way ahead of him was a meadow full of wild dark flowers. Dark blue streamers, like irises, or reeds at the edge of a river. And then he realized that it was not flowers at all, but other men — mere sketches of men now in the ground mist — as they swayed and staggered. Wild dark flowers bending to the ground.
(from The Wild Dark Flowers, page 257)
The Wild Dark Flowers is the second book in the Rutherford Park series. Elizabeth Cooke returns readers to the estate of Lord William and Lady Octavia Cavendish in 1915, at a time when World War I was ushering in dramatic changes to English society. Lord William’s heir, Harry, is a pilot in France, and many of their servants have joined up to fight as well. The youngest Cavendish, Charlotte, keeps up with current events and wants to volunteer at a hospital in London. Meanwhile, Octavia is lamenting the loss of true love in her life and merely going through the motions as she comes to terms with her decision to remain at William’s side.
Change is happening everywhere, but William is unwilling to accept it. He turns his head when he sees women filling the jobs of the men who have gone to war. He thinks Harry should focus on learning to run the estate, whereas Harry believes his place is in France fighting with everyone else. And he will soon have to come to turns with the blurring of class lines as his daughter Louisa grows closer to Jack, the stable boy with whom she grew up on the estate.
As in Rutherford Park, Cooke details the different experiences of the titled families and those below stairs. She focuses on Jack and his frustration over the treatment of the horses taken from their farms and forced into military service, and she follows a footman, Harrison, into the trenches. There’s also a lot going on in the main house, with the housekeeper, Mrs. Jocelyn, and her hatred for Octavia fueling her religious zealousness and harsh treatment of the housemaids.
Cooke packs so much into 341 pages, including the sinking of the Lusitania, the treatment of the horses taken into battle, the changing role of women in society, the rising power of the lower classes, and the fact that the information about the war published in the newspapers was often far from the truth. However, I never felt overwhelmed or found it difficult to keep track of all the characters. If anything, the different points of view helped moved the story forward and made it so readable.
The Wild Dark Flowers was a fantastic sequel, and Cooke made me care about characters I didn’t really connect with in the first book. Where Rutherford Park introduces the characters and sets the stage for the inevitable changes and losses brought about by the war, The Wild Dark Flowers really gets inside the character’s heads, inside the trenches, and inside the sheltered, splintering lives of people holding onto the past. So much happened in this book that I can’t wait to see where Cooke takes these characters in the next installment.
Disclosure: I received The Wild Dark Flowers from Berkley for review.
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