As soon as I skimmed the plot synopsis for this book while standing in the shop I knew I was going to read it. That’s not to say I didn’t hesitate. It is a much longer work than I usually read at over 600 pages so I knew I would have to stay committed. Thankfully I did and I must say, overall, I rather enjoyed it.
Before I begin I must point out that Where The Light Enters is actually the second in what I assume will be an ongoing series, so obviously a lot of the back history of the characters has been pre established. However when I started the book I wasn’t aware of that. I don’t think it was too much of a hindrance except when trying to keep track of some of the familial relationships (of which there were a lot). They got a bit confusing sometimes (some of the names were very similar) but when that happened I didn’t get too hung up on it. I just powered on and hoped it would all become clear.
Where the series nature of the work did have an effect was that some plot strands were started but not concluded. I assume they are going to be addressed in future installments which was a bit of a pain as I really wanted to know what happened – a pregnancy, educational endeavors as well as new friends and acquaintances were all teased which all means that I guess I will be reading book number three when it appears!
But onto the plot …
The book is set in 1880’s New York (you see my interest) and mainly follows the lives of three female doctors, well two that are qualified and one in training. I say mainly as there are a lot of characters and story lines that intersect the lives of Sophie and Anna Savard (cousins … I think) and Elsie Mercier. All of them get involved in a sprawling police investigation (involving back street abortions, kidnapping, torture, murder and insanity) thanks to Anna being married to Serjeant Jack Mezzanotte of the New York Police Force. Spoiler: I loved their relationship and the sequences of them alone together gave me so many warm fuzzies! I would love to have a book that focussed on them as the main characters. Much of what happens in the book is related to this case in some way although there are other plot strands mainly involving a sick child and events connected to that.
Sophie has just returned to New York after taking her gravely ill husband to Europe in the hope of him recovering from tuberculosis of which sadly he doesn’t. She finds herself a young widow with a large fortune who hopes to use it to establish a school for young women wanting to become doctors. What makes the dynamics of this all the more interesting is that Sophia has African and Native American heritage which means she has to contend with many disadvantages which would probably not be unusual in today’s society. She is a non-white woman who is a highly educated medical professional. She has to battle through prejudice on many fronts (gender and race being the most obvious but also class) but does so with strength, intelligence, bravery and dignity. She is actually a breath of fresh air.
Family (blood as well adopted) is a dominant theme in the book, showcasing how strong, supporting and comforting it can be when good people are involved but how tragic, sad and damaging it can be when people lose their way and are corrupted. Another strong theme is the reproductive rights of women that runs through the book via the topic of contraception and illegal abortions – one a consequence of the lack of the other with women being very much the direct victims of laws and policies in this area.
Another interesting theme that comes across quite strongly is what I would call, for the want of a better phrase, anti religious (certainly anti Catholic) sentiment. The Church, and by extension many religious characters are portrayed as cruel, narrow minded, unfair, intolerant, dogmatic and in several cases unhinged mentally in a violent and dangerous way. Whereas the science of medicine and those who follow its path get a much more favourable reception on the pages. Native American spiritual beliefs are even touched on briefly in a very sympathetic manner. It makes for a very interesting juxtaposition that leads me to wonder whether it is just a plot device or the author’s views creeping into the story.
As I mentioned earlier the book is quite long and for the most part I think it keeps up interest without getting too bogged down or lost. There were one or two moments where I thought too much time was spent on descriptive passages that would have been ok in a shorter work but here felt like they slowed down the action too much, especially in the middle section. When things did start to happen as the story moved towards its conclusion, they galloped along at a brisk pace and were quite exciting which was great.
Personally I really liked this book and I am glad that I was able to stay the course. This is no reflection on the book itself, just my very bad habit developed over years of not being able to finish longer works.This one kept me interested and involved and had what I would call an intelligence behind it which was very refreshing. However because of some of the themes I don’t think this will be for everyone. I certainly feel it is slanted to the female audience who will be able to sympathise with events and people. And it is long.
I would say that this is a strongly recommended read with caveats.
(Header Image: Sarah Kreig)