The year is 1946 and all over the world young women are crossing the seas in their thousands en route to the men they married in wartime, and an unknown future.
In Sydney, Australia, four women join 650 other brides on an extraordinary voyage to England - aboard the Victoria, which still carries not just arms and aircraft but a thousand naval officers and men.
Rules of honour, duty and separation are strictly enforced, from the aircraft carrier's captain down to the lowliest young stoker. But the men and the brides will find their lives intertwined in ways the Navy could never have imagined.
And Frances Mackenzie - the enigmatic young bride whose past comes back to haunt her thousands of miles from home - will find that sometimes the journey is more
important than the destination.
Based on the true voyage undertaken by HMS Victorious, The Ship of Brides is a novel about love, blind faith, and an age when the collision between duty and love could leave you with more than a broken heart.
Four young Australian girls are thrown together on a journey that will last six weeks, but it might as well be a lifetime for some of them. Jean is a very young bride who basically wants to have a laugh, Avice is a society girl, Maggie has just come off of the farm where she has been looking after her dad and brothers and Frances is the former Army nurse who is distant and very quiet about her personal life.
Sharing a small cabin on the journey to their new life, they gradually have to learn to get to know each other. For heavily pregnant Maggie, living with other females is something completely new, but she knows that at the end her husband Joe will be waiting. All she has to do now is to keep the little dog alive that she smuggled aboard secret. Given that she is much more comfortable with men, it is probably inevitable that she will strike up friendships with some of the crew despite the fact that this is frowned upon, but those same friendships could lead to unforeseen circumstances for one of the girls.
Jean is always game for anything, for a laugh, for fun. She really clashes with Avice, but seems to manage to bond with others on the ship.
Avice is basically a snob, and is horrified to learn that not only will she not be making the journey to her loving husband's arms on a cruise liner, but a ship on it's last legs, and she has to share with three other women who are all well below her normal standards of acquaintances. Avice is also into appearances, and is up for the prize of Lady of the ship. Along the way, she finds that things aren't exactly as she thought they were. I was glad though to see that the author didn't fall into the most obvious trap of suddenly making her one of the girls.
Frances is the quiet girl, whose past holds more than one shocking secret, and who in effect has the most difficult transition to make. She enjoys spending time by herself, appreciating the tranquility of the sea, and the journey. A nurse during the not so distant World War II, she soon finds herself being called upon to use her skills in ways that are somewhat surprising. Can she move onto her new life, leaving behind the past that seems to keep catching up with her, no matter how far away she goes from it.
Another character in the book is the Victoria herself. The book opens with one of the characters finding the Victoria gradually rusting away on a beach in India - a graveyard for ships. She is shocked to see the old ship, and it brings to mind her journey, that she then shares with her granddaughter. We learn during the book that this is the last journey for the ship. The captain is determined that whilst this may be the last journey, he is not going to let his standards slip, especially seeing as he knows that it is likely that this is his last command as well. Of course, that is easy to say until you have a boat full of women, who need to be entertained, who's idea of a nightmare is to run out of water for washing and setting their hair, and where, despite the best laid plans, there are the inevitable liaisons between the men and women.
Along the way, we have the inevitable nerves as the women step into the unknown, a couple of heartbreaks when the young wives received the dreaded "Not wanted, don't come" telegram, a love story, drama, danger, and just a little bit of fun. I felt that Moyes did a fantastic job of capturing what it must have been like, during those days at the end of WWII, and quite an unusual story. The characters were certainly distinct, and she didn't go to all the obvious places with the plot. There was a significant but low key romance that was very well written and built up beautifully without overwhelming any of the other parts of the story.
I haven't read any books by Jojo Moyes before, but after this I will definitely be looking out for more from her.