Wednesday, August 31, 2016

680 (2016 #35). The Gilded Hour

by Sara Donati,
read by Cassandra Campbell

I thoroughly enjoyed this very long (over 30 hours) audiobook, even though the story left a lot of unanswered questions at the end.  Turns out The Gilded Hour is actually the first book in a planned series, and author Sara Donati plans to address the unfinished stories in future sequels.

This book is set in 1883 in New York City - and Donati, a former university professor, certainly did her research.  The main character is Dr. Anna Savard, a surgeon who primarily treats poor women and children.  She lives with a widowed aunt who raised her, and with her cousin, Sophie Savard, also a physician.  As the story continues, more members are added to the household, as one story concerns four Italian orphans.  The oldest of those, Rosa Russo, is the inspiration for the novel - author Rosina Lippi (Sara Donati is her pen name) was named for her orphaned grandmother (although this is not the grandmother's true story).  Meanwhile, Sophie, while rather prominent in the first part of the book, marries and goes to Switzerland with her tubercular husband, so I suppose we will read more about her in a later book in the series.

Donati explores a lot of topics in her lengthy (741 print pages) novel: medicine, birth control, abortion, abandoned children, even murder and police investigations.  Descriptions of settings were evocative, characters were well-developed, and the variety in the plots kept me reading.  Donati wove in some real people and situations into her novel.  I kept expecting the evil Anthony Comstock to somehow finagle the arrest of Anna or Sophie or both - and who knows, maybe that will happen in a later book, too.

Cassandra Campbell was an excellent narrator - a strong but definitely feminine voice for Anna, a slight French accent for Sophie, Italian accents where needed, and so on.

While I would have liked to know up front that this book was the planned opener of a series, Donati's writing hooked me enough that I'm going to read her previous Wilderness series (six books).  Characters in The Gilded Hour are descendants of people in those books, although it is not necessary to have read the previous series to understand this book.

© Amanda Pape - 2016

[This e-audiobook was borrowed from and returned to my university library.]

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