How’s this for a tenuous connection? This is a novel I only read because I really enjoy a podcast that’s hosted by the author’s husband. Well, that and the fact that it was set in Edinburgh, a city I loved visiting. Oh, and it was like two bucks on Amazon. Turns out, none of those are great ways to pick out a novel.
Hazel is a teenage girl from a wealthy family living in a castle outside Edinburgh. Her father, a naval officer, is on assignment guarding Napoleon in exile on Saint Helena. Her mother has been a nervous wreck ever since the death of her oldest son from fever. She coddles her youngest boy and leaves Hazel pretty much to her own devices, secure in the knowledge that Hazel will soon marry her wealthy cousin and consolidate the family’s fortune and establish a secure future. But of course, that wouldn’t make for much of a novel.
No, Hazel doesn’t want to marry her cousin and host tea parties. She wants to be a surgeon, which in 1817 is quite a thing to want for a young woman, even one as privileged as Hazel. And she’ll do most anything to get there, like dress in her older brother’s clothes and sneak into anatomy lessons. Or hide in the room and watch her professor perform an autopsy to figure out the procedure. Or employ one of the city’s “resurrection men” to dig up recently buried bodies for her to practice on herself.
And of course, her “resurrection man” happens to be a kind-hearted young man who Hazel soon find more attractive than her rather dull cousin. Never mind that, considering he’s a poor boy living in squalor in the 19th century, he probably doesn’t cut all that dashing a figure.
I was hoping for more period and geographical detail from this book, but really it’s just a YA romance with some light literary pretensions. What started to sour me on the novel was a total lack of specificity. There’s nothing in the text to suggest that the author has ever been to Edinburgh. (She’s an American, but you know, she chose the setting so she doesn’t get a pass.) None of the characters seem particularly Scottish, as opposed to English. They don’t really talk all that differently than modern teen characters would talk.
The plot becomes fairly preposterous when you consider that all of this is supposedly taking place in just a few short months. And that’s before the last-minute inclusion of a totally unnecessary supernatural element. Unnecessary, that is, unless you want to write a sequel. Needless to say, I doubt I’ll be reading the sequel.