WWI Romance in “Not By Sight”

23411528Not By Sight by Kate Breslin
Bethany House: August 4, 2015 (Historical Fiction; Christian Fiction)*

Beach Vacation
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“When bad things occur, it’s the devil working to shake our belief. We have to look to our hearts for the truth and not at what the world does. ‘We live by faith, not by sight’”.

Not By Sight caught my attention because of its WWI connection – it’s a period in history that fascinates me endlessly. In general, I tend to say away from Christian Fiction recognizing that it’s just not my thing – I get why it’s popular but it tends to be too sweet and the faith element is not subtle enough for my taste. That said, Not By Sight pleasantly surprised me. The historical details were great, the plot was exciting and the religious element was not overpowering.  Grace Mabry is a staunch patriot and with her twin brother fighting in France, Grace wants to support the war effort however she can. When Not By Sight begins readers are treated the Grace’s idea of helping the war effort: she’s crashing a party to hand out white feathers to those able bodied men that have not gone off to war. At this party Grace encounters Jack Benningham, heir to the Earl of Stonebrooke. Jack has a bit of a wild reputation and is known as a pacifist. Unbeknownst to Grace, Jack is doing his part for the war by acting as a spy on the homefront.

After this charged first meeting neither Grace nor Jack expect to see the other again. Of course these two do encounter each other once more. Grace, along with her maid Agnes, have joined the Women’s Forage Corps where she and others harvest and bale hale for the cavalry horses overseas. The estate Grace is posted to just so happens to be Jack’s and he is no longer the seemingly carefree young man that Grace first met. Jack is now scarred and blind – and has no idea that Grace is the woman that gave him the feather at the ball months ago.

There was a lot to like about Not By Sight: the historical atmosphere, the emphasis on female friendship between Grace and her fellow WFC members, Grace’s growth and understanding of the war effort, and the engaging relationship between Grace and Jack. Grace begins this novel as a very naïve young woman. She’s twenty years old and at that age where she believes unquestionably in her own views. She’s a strong supporter of women’s rights and the war effort. She does not understand why some men refuse to fight or why some might oppose the war at all. Throughout Not By Sight Grace comes to realize the consequences of war and that the propaganda that she has been fed is not necessarily the truth. Grace’s change throughout the book was a great element of the novel and struck me as a coming-of-age tale.

While I did like the fact that Grace was a naïve young woman who learns through her experiences, I have to admit that I occasionally found her actions to be annoying. In a number of instances Grace came across as saintly and almost too good to be true. For example, when one of the girls that she works with, Becky, tries to steal three chickens to send to her starving family, Grace catches her and convinces her not to steal.

“God would notice, Becky. And so would you.” Grace spoke gently. “Please don’t do this. Stealing is wrong, regardless of how many chickens Lord Roxwood has in his possession. You must have faith. Things will turn around.”

My problem with Grace is that she’s giving this advice to Becky (and the other girls when Grace inevitably learns of their problems) without ever really experiencing this type of hardship herself. It’s all right for Grace to say stealing is wrong, but she’s never known starvation. And the recommendation that Becky simply have faith that things will work out for her family seems like a rather passive approach to a very real problem for Becky and her family. Grace’s doles out similar advice to the other girls in the WFC and I can’t help but question whether Grace would really be considered a leader to these girls with the advice she provides. Grace’s perfection made her efforts to help the other WFC girls seem disingenuous and it was Grace’s problem solving that was the weakest element of the book.

Grace’s advice-based relationship with the other WFC girls aside, I found Grace’s interactions with Jack to be the most compelling part of the book. When Grace wasn’t offering unsolicited advice, she was a charming and lovely character. Jack for his part was equally interesting. If anyone is a fan of the beauty and the beast trope, there is quite a bit of this going on here and it is well done. Grace and Jack’s romance was idyllic, but it was earnestly sweet and will appeal to fans of softer romances.

Not By Sight was a softer look at the First World War and is likely to appeal to a younger audience. For those who are not fans of Christian Fiction, it’s safe to say that this is not an overwhelming element to Not By Sight. For readers looking for a mellow historical read, Not By Sight is a safe bet.

*Review copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley.

Similar Reads

As soon as I started reading Not By Sight I was immediately reminded of Jennifer Robson’s After the War is Over. Robson’s post-WWI historical novel is the perfect follow-up to Breslin’s if you liked the historical atmosphere of Not By Sight. Like Not By Sight, After the War is Over is a quieter read but will appeal to those who enjoyed the details of women’s suffrage and wounded heroes. See my full review of After the War is Over here.

After the War Is Over

The fact that Jack had to marry an heiress was not an uncommon occurrences for the impoverished aristocracy during this period, especially following the war. In Kate Furnivall’s Shadows on the Nile it’s heroine teams up with an impoverished aristocrat. Shadows on the Nile explores some of the same themes as Not By Sight, but it is not Christian Fiction and there is a strong mystery plot. See my full review of Shadows on the Nile here.

Shadows on the Nile

Lastly, for those who were interested in the spy element of Not By Sight, you will not be disappointed by Simone St. James’ The Other Side of Midnight. Again, this one is not Christian Fiction, but for those interested in the period following WWI this is a great read. As an added bonus there are ghosts! See my full review of The Other Side of Midnight here.

The Other Side of Midnight

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