Thursday, 1 October 2015

The Gilded Hour

Author: Sara Donati
Genre: Historical Fiction
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 752
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Berkley
First Published: September 1, 2015

Book Description from GoodReadsThe international bestselling author of Into the Wilderness makes her highly anticipated return with a remarkable epic about two female doctors in nineteenth-century New York and the transcendent power of courage and love…

The year is 1883, and in New York City, it’s a time of dizzying splendor, crushing poverty, and tremendous change. With the gravity-defying Brooklyn Bridge nearly complete and New York in the grips of anti-vice crusader Anthony Comstock, Anna Savard and her cousin Sophie—both graduates of the Woman’s Medical School—treat the city’s most vulnerable, even if doing so may put everything they’ve strived for in jeopardy.

Anna's work has placed her in the path of four children who have lost everything, just as she herself once had. Faced with their helplessness, Anna must make an unexpected choice between holding on to the pain of her past and letting love into her life.

For Sophie, an obstetrician and the orphaned daughter of free people of color, helping a desperate young mother forces her to grapple with the oath she took as a doctor—and thrusts her and Anna into the orbit of Anthony Comstock, a dangerous man who considers himself the enemy of everything indecent and of anyone who dares to defy him.

With its vivid depictions of old New York and its enormously appealing characters, The Gilded Hour is a captivating, emotionally gripping novel that proves Sara Donati is an author at the height of her powers.

My Review: About a decade ago I started reading Donati's Into the Wilderness series and became utterly enthralled with the Bonner family's lives, loves, trials and tribulations.  After waiting for what seemed like forever I was beyond thrilled to learn that Donati had written a new book.

This book focuses on the lives of two young female doctors, Sophie and Anna Savard who are cousins.  While the first part of the book bounces back and forth between the two cousins' stories the second half of the book centres around Anna.  Truth be told I liked her story line better anyway but I predict that Sophie will have more page time in future books in what I hope to be a new series.

This book isn't fast-paced.  It's much more of a character-driven read that meanders through the lives of Anna and Sophie who are strong minded young doctors trying to make names for themselves in the male dominated field as well as dealing with their own personal lives.  This is a long book (700+ pages) so Donati takes time to include off-shoot story lines that may not progress the plot but gives the reader a chance to get to know more about her characters (and I suspect set up future story lines). 

There are a couple of mysteries throughout the book.  The first involves finding young missing orphaned brothers and the second is a much darker mystery that is at the core of the book and involves a murderer/serial killer.  I found this second mystery interesting but was a little frustrated to find that readers aren't privy to who the murderer is in this first book. 

One of Donati's traits as a writer is her unique ability to describe scenes and the era that surround her story.  In The Gilded Hour, Donati vividly describes life in late 1880's New York City as she weaves a story around Anna and Sophie's family.  It soon becomes clear that Donati has done her research of the era and doesn't shy away from sensitive topics.  She includes stories about women's reproductive rights, the plight of orphans in NYC, immigration, interracial marriage, bigotry, religion ...  There's a lot going on in this book but overall it works.

I always enjoy when a historical fiction author includes real people/story lines in their work.  In this instance Donati references some historical figures including Anthony Comstock whose organization, the Society for the Suppression of Vice, obsessively persecuted anyone, including doctors, for giving the public information about contraception and abortion.  Adding these tidbits of history gives the book a more authentic feel and made me want to learn more about the era.

One of my favourite parts actually came as a surprise to me.  Around page 300 I found out that some of the characters in this book are descendants of characters from Donati's Into the Wilderness series.  Gah!!  I had no idea that the series would be related and I admit that I had a bit of a fan moment when I made the connection.  I loved being reminded of some of the characters from a series that made such an impact on me as a reader.  Unfortunately, it has been a long time since I've read the first series so when the family connections were revealed I struggled to remember how people were related to each other.  A diagram of a family tree would have helped a lot (instead I went online and found it).

Romance lovers will enjoy that there is some l'amour embedded in this book.  The main romance is between Anna and police detective Jack Mezzanotte.  It was a sweet romance that was fairly easy to get behind even if it happened quickly.  Even though Jack is quite involved in the book the reader unfortunately doesn't get a chance to really get to know him.  I felt the same way with Sophie's love interest, Cap Verhoeven who didn't have a big role in the book.  I think a little more background/point of view from the men would have gone a long way in making them a more essential part of the story.

Donati once again shares her ability to pull readers into her stories right from the beginning.  She has believable characters that readers can easily get behind and while I wasn't overly happy that all of the story lines weren't tied up nicely I can guarantee that if Ms Donati writes more books to make this a series I will be picking them up to see how things play out.

My Rating: 4/5 stars


Care said...

Wow - this book sounds fascinating.

Laurie@The Baking Bookworm said...

It was a good read and had a whole lot going on in it. I can't tell you how excited I was when I heard that she was writing a new book. Totally book geeked out! :)

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