Maggie Ford proves to be a born storyteller in her gritty, heart-breaking debut novel featuring a young woman torn between love and duty.
Ford has been writing short stories since the early 1970s and The Soldier’s Bride, a beautifully pitched romance which portrays the tragic repercussions of war, is her first full-length novel.
Full of the sights, sounds and smells of London’s East End, Ford’s nostalgic and yet down-to-earth story rolls back the years to the early decades of the 20th century when women were expected to put family duty before love, and to sacrifice their own happiness in the care of others.
In 1908, Letty and Lucy Bancroft watch from the sidelines as their eldest sister Vinnie marries her sweetheart. Letty, Vinnie and Lucy have been raised in the tough Brick Lane area of London where squalor, narrow back alleys and a lack of fresh air are a breeding ground for disease.
But now Vinnie and Lucy are escaping. Vinnie has found herself a well-off husband, Lucy is walking out with a prosperous young man and Letty is more than a little envious. With her striking good looks, she has her suitors but keeps the local boys at arm’s length hoping that one day Prince Charming will arrive to sweep her off her feet.
When widower David Baron, son of a well-heeled Highgate draper walks into her life, Letty falls head over heels in love with him as he whisks her from West End tea rooms to theatres and grand restaurants.
She is convinced that she has found the right man and is now just waiting for the day when she and David can walk down the aisle together. But when Letty’s mother dies from tuberculosis, her father has other ideas.
Arthur Bancroft has decided that he cannot manage his East End shop alone and turns his youngest daughter into a domestic drudge. Letty is to be tied to house and shop while her sisters find joy in their husbands and children.
And when war breaks out in 1914, heartbroken Letty watches her love go off to fight in France, little realising that very soon she will need David more than ever...
Written with warmth and a deep affection for the hardy folk of London’s East End, The Soldier’s Bride is a captivating tale of love and resilience in hard times.
(Ebury, paperback, £5.99)