Historical fiction has become immensely popular (or perhaps I’m just becoming more aware of it). For me, I like bringing history a little more into focus – the reminder that events from history are surrounded by people. People who lived, loved, and who did things that changed lives. What I don’t like about historical fiction is the (necessary) blending of fact and fiction to tell a story. Despite author’s notes letting the reader know where the line was drawn, it can be hard to separate the fact from the fiction in the reader’s memory. I’ve also found that many of the historical fiction books I’ve read have included a strong romantic angle. Not unusual, I suppose, given that we’re reading and writing about people, but sometimes it seems that this is all people (mostly women in these books) thought about in the past.
The Girl in His Shadow, by Audrey Blake (coauthors Jaima Fixsen and Regina Sirois), is a thoroughly researched novel about orphan girl Nora Beady in 1840’s London. Nora was adopted by surgeon Dr. Horace Croft – a talented but unconventional man. Nora grew up in a home where it was just natural for her to watch what her father did, and where she would practice suturing and anatomical drawings of dissections. Hardly a normal upbringing, but Nora, an intelligent girl, became a better physician than most trained men.
This comes to light when Croft takes on a new surgical resident at his private clinic – Dr. Daniel Gibson. Gibson quickly recognizes that Nora’s skills are stronger than his own, and, out of respect for Croft (for whom he admires, which is why he took the position) he tries to keep Nora’s skills a secret. 1840’s England is not a place where women are allowed to take on a role such as doctor.
When it is Nora’s skill and her study of a new gas that can possibly be used in a medical procedure – ether – saves a life, the very fact that she ‘practiced’ medicine brings contempt and legal charges against Nora and the doctors who allowed it. The biggest concern? That she must have seen the man’s genitals while performing surgery. Gasp!
The only bright light is that news of Nora’s skill elicits a visit from a physician from Europe.
I found the book to be very readable and engaging. We have clear, well-defined central characters and a story that is set-up nicely and builds well, holding our attention the entire way. We learn a fair amount about medicine – advanced medicine – in the mid 1800’s, which sometimes reminds us how far we’ve come and how grateful we should be for today’s advancements.
The medical portions of the story were really interesting and I liked how natural it felt for Nora and how almost un-natural it was for the male doctors in her life. Croft was pretty genius, if unconventional, but he still seemed to work hard at it while Nora took to it naturally.
The romance in the story just never worked for me. It felt added on much too late in order to use it for some last-minute drama. I never bought into it. Nora’s interest seemed wholly on medicine until the last possible moment.
Still, a very good read and worth looking in to.
Looking for a good book? The Girl in His Shadow by Audrey Blake is a well-written, well-research historical fiction story of a woman in 1800’s London who was a better medical practitioner than most trained male doctors but who, because of her gender, had to live in the shadows. Worth reading.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
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The Girl in His Shadow
author: Audrey Blake
publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
paperback, 378 pages