Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Book Review: Where the Light Enters, by Sara Donati

Where the Light Enters by Sara Donati book cover and review
I had some difficulty sinking into Where the Light Enters, but once I did, I was hooked.

It is 1884 and Dr. Sophie Savard is trying to rebuild her life after the death of her husband from tuberculosis. She returns to New York, a wealthy woman, and with the help of her cousin, Anna, who is also a physician, she begins to bring her dreams to fruition.

It is difficult being a woman and a physician in the 1800s. But Sophie is also mixed race, and her dark skin closes a lot of doors. Because of her husband's wealth, their marriage was scandalous, and Sophie wants to keep a low profile and mourn in peace.

There is a lot going on, plot-wise, and I won't tell you all of it. Anna has two "adopted" orphans taken away from her because of religious reasons. Anna's husband, Jack, is a police detective. There is an old case where young, pregnant women were deliberately given botched abortions which resulted in their deaths. This case remains unsolved. Now a couple of new cases of missing persons have been discovered, and another death of a woman under mysterious circumstances. Anna and Sophie are consulted for their medical expertise. There are intermittent, seemingly unrelated, newspaper articles about scandals and crimes throughout the story.

There are many other characters, Aunt Quinlan, Elise (a medical student staying with her), the Lees (housekeepers), and Jack's partner, Oscar, to name a few that complete Where the Light Enters. I thought the depiction of life for women physicians might have made it look a bit too easy. Even though they were dismissed by many, to me they seemed to be more accepted than I would have believed. Money helps, I'm sure. And the stories about disturbing medical procedures, the conditions of orphanages, and depictions of the homeless were, no doubt, startlingly accurate.

Be warned: The first thing in the books is an extensive, four-page list of characters that is quite daunting. Followed by a family tree and a map! I almost put the book down right then. But my approach to these books is to just dig right in. If that list is really necessary, I'll end up putting the book down. In this case, it wasn't needed, so don't fret.

I had a hard time determining where the story was going. What is the main plotline? Is it the police investigations? Is it the orphans that are now staying with a relative of Anna? Is it Sophie's plans to use her house and finances to help other young women become doctors? And what do all those news articles mean? I persevered, and eventually, I could feel a rhythm to the tale. And it truly is about all of the above, but I guess mostly about the police investigations.

At the end of the book, the author's note states: "The newspaper articles tucked into various corners are all composites of actual accounts...You may wonder what those women have to do with the Savards, Quinlans, Verhoevans, and Mezzanottes; eventually, you will find out." Then she talks about the notes written for the previous novel in the series. This was the first indication that this was the second book in a series! I had seen "by the author of The Gilded Hour" when reading about Where the Light Enters, but not once does it indicate anywhere that this book is part of the same series! Now I need to go back and read The Gilded Hour. 

The characterizations are what makes Where the Light Enters and what makes me long for more stories. If you are a fan of historical fiction you should let Sophie and Anna and Jack (and everyone else) into your heart too.

Published by Berkley, September 10, 2019
eARC obtained from NetGalley
672 pages

Rating: 4/5





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2 comments:

  1. A character list at the start of a book is very intimidating and a 4-page list sounds down right daunting. It's really good information that we should read the other novel first.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Sounds like there are a lot of really interesting things going on here, but maybe a little too much? You've intrigued me, though. I'm definitely going to give this one a go. Glad you enjoyed it overall.

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