Note: I received this ARC for free in exchange for an honest review.
Addendum to note: I didn’t get it in the mail until the day after its official release date, which stole some of my urgency in reading it. The rest of my urgency in starting it was stolen by the onset of late-pregnancy fatigue.
Addendum to addendum: Once I started reading, I could hardly put it down.
First of all, I was so excited when this ARC came in the mail for me. I’m not usually a reader of historical fiction, but this book is set in Portland. Of the Oregon variety. As in… my city. How could I not be excited?
And Lucier did not disappoint. The sense of place in A Death-Struck Year is fantastic. Maybe it’s just because I live here, but everywhere Cleo went, I went in my head. And I’m not usually one who can picture settings well. She captured the sense of Portland a hundred-odd years ago so wonderfully, with details that make it recognizable today, as well as the quaintness that comes from being, well, a hundred years ago.
Another thing I loved: the romance with Edmund. I’ve read reviews that say it was too quiet, too much “budding” and not enough “romance,” but I think it was perfect. For one thing, I think historical books are constrained by the time period in a way that contemporaries aren’t. While there is a reference to two characters who would likely be a good fit in a NA novel, I think anything more explicit than the few chaste kisses Cleo and Edmund share would feel out of place and bring me out of the story.
I liked the way Cleo and Edmund’s back stories tied in to why they were so invested in the Red Cross and helping those with the flu, even if I wish we knew a little bit more about Edmund (a sequel wouldn’t hurt. Just sayin’).
All of the main characters seemed real and well-rounded to me. I fell in love with Hannah, and loved Cleo’s adventures with Kate. The only issue I had with the characters is one that can’t be helped: in a book called “A Death-Struck Year”, with a setting like when the Spanish influenza reached my hometown, I found myself remaining emotionally distant. Any time a character was introduced, I wouldn’t let myself fall in love with them, because I knew that absolutely everyone could be part of the death toll.
Because of that, the deaths that did happen (spoiler? idk. It’s kind of in the title.) didn’t touch me like they would have if the same characters had died in a different setting. I also wish there was a little bit more about her brother and sister-in-law, although their absence makes perfect sense in context.
In the back, she includes an appendix of facts from the Flu Epidemic, which I found as fascinating as I’m sure Lucier did in researching them. I think knowing that these things actually happened, in the timeline that she prescribes, makes the book seem even more awesome.
So my overall rating: 4 out of 5 stars. But I’m not sure what Lucier could have done to earn that 5th star from me, expect perhaps make me forget that there was death and help me fall in love with the characters a little more.
I recommend it for anyone interested in the Flu Epidemic, Portland, strong characters, mild romance, and just a really good read.