This book transports you straight into the horrors of an 18th century English hospital. The problem was that I’m not sure it is a place I ever want to witness! The squalor was vividly described, and I don’t think I have ever read a book which conveys the smells of the scene so convincingly. It was disgusting!
The book has clearly been meticulously researched and contains many interesting snippets about the medical practices of the time, but the majority of the time I didn’t really want to read about them:
"He pressed his thumb into the inflamed skin and a thicker bead of pus exuded from the cut, retreating like a wary maggot when he let go."
I was alternately absorbed and revolted!
The book follows Mary, a reluctant nurse, who has to deal with the all the bodily functions thrown at her, on top of the secrets she is hiding. Mary is struggling to become independent and is initially over-whelmed by her new life in Chester, as she is used to a very different life by the sea. As the book progresses she gains in confidence and her hidden past is gradually revealed. The book is very well paced and the plot, although quite simple, is compelling.
If I had to make one criticism it would be that the male characters in the book did not stand out for me. Mary was such an amazing character that all the men in the book seemed to pale into insignificance beside her. I didn’t really mind this though – it is good to see such a strong female character, particularly in historical fiction, every once in a while.
Recommended to historical fiction fans with a stomach of steel!