Monday, January 16, 2017

Book Review: The Gilded Hour by Sara Donati

A while back I asked friends to recommend to me must reads set in NY/NJ and my friend Jessica recommended this one, as she knows I like historicals. Given the length (over 700 pages), I had expected it to be a saga but instead it takes place over the course of about 2 months one summer in New York City in 1883.

Dr. Anna Savard is a surgeon at the New Amsterdam Charity Hospital and one day she steps in for her cousin, Sophie—also a physician—and a mulatto—with a group of newly accepted orphans coming into New York from New Jersey, who need to have a health check before they can enter the city. The Italian translator she discovers is actually a NYC cop, unusual as the force is mostly Irish, but she finds jack interesting, and so she's pleased when she later runs into him at a fancy-dress ball at the Vanderbilts' where he is working security. One set of orphans really caught her eye, and later she runs into half of them, the two girls, and discovers they were separated from their two brothers who are now missing. She takes the two girls home and they are virtually adopted by her Aunt Quinlan and cousin Margaret. Meanwhile, the love of Sophie's life, Cap, their friend since childhood, is dying of tuberculosis, and finally persuades Sophie to marry him in exchange for him going to Europe to try an experimental treatment (she didn't want to marry him as he's really wealthy and from Old Money who won't look at all kindly to him marrying a mixed-race woman who is a practicing doctor, no less.) Anna and Jack spend every non-working minute looking for the two missing orphan boys and falling in love, while occasionally looking at the about-to-open Brooklyn Bridge and traveling to the hinterlands of upper Manhattan, a wilderness still.

I really liked all the historical detail, although the anachronisms in everyone's attitudes and societal mores got a bit eye-rolling. Only one person in the entire book—Jack's youngest sister who is also an acknowledged bitch—looks askance at Sophie (other than the horrible moneyed people who shun Cap but they're supposed to all behave that way.)While The Establishment looks down on them for their racial acceptance and their professional careers, everyone else in their lives, everyone they meet, if super-progressive to the point that I think you could pluck Anna (or Sophie or Aunt Quinlan or Jack) out of 1883 and plop them into 2017 and they wouldn't miss a beat—they'd fit right in, instantly. So that was slightly annoying. Also I really wish I'd known this was supposed to be the first in a series. I don't like reading series one at a time, waiting for the next installment for years. My memory is too bad for that. No where in the description or in the end of the book does it say that (even in Goodreads it isn't listed as part of a series) but several commenters have noted it and also there were just way too many dropped threads at the end of the book for it to be anything else. Sophie and Cap go overseas halfway through the book, never to be seen again. A man is murdering women through purposefully botched abortions which Anna is helping Jack and his partner investigate, and he isn't caught. there's much broad hinting about Anna becoming pregnant but it doesn't happen. I'm assuming all of that wraps up in book 2.

Still it was a fun distraction, with lots of period details, and it's informative about the state of medical practice at that time and women's rights. If you like Gilded Age novels, this one is a fun one, but be forewarned about the lack of a sequel at this time.

I checked this book out of the library.

No comments: