So this was another case of “oh my gosh the cover is so pretty I MUST READ THIS NOW!” Also, I thought the blurb sounded interesting but, as I discovered while reading, I had completely misread the blurb. I don’t know how or why but I was expecting this book to be a fantasy. It really, really was not.
Lousia Cosgrove is leaving her home for the first time, escaping from the poor relationship she has with her mother, and going to work for a family she’s barely ever heard of. When her carriage takes a wrong turn and the woman she’s traveling with dumps her at Wildthorn Hall where everyone calls her Lucy Childs, Louisa is sure there has been some terrible mistake. She isn’t insane. She doesn’t belong locked up these people in this horrible place. She isn’t sure anyone should be locked up in Wildthorn Hall. Louisa becomes determined to unravel the mystery of how she came be in an insane asylum, before Wildthorn Hall makes her truly insane.
I started this book sometime after dinner, read straight through and finished around three in the morning. I needed to know who had send Louisa to Wildthorn.
The book is separated into two parts. The first starts with Louisa’s arrival at Wildthorn and then alternates with flashbacks to her childhood leading up to what made her decide to leave home in the first place. As we are introduced to the people in her life suspicion keeps switching around as, in present day, Louisa begins to understand the inner politics of Wildthorn Hall and finds she isn’t the only one who has suffered an injustice in being sent to Wildthorn.
I love the cast of characters in this book. Each one surprising and each one with qualities that you can both love and hate. Especially Louisa’s brother. I thought I’d hate him at the end but, like Louisa, I found that I just felt sorry for him. There was one character who I did end up hating but I can’t say who as it would spoil the whole thing. Needless to say this character had the opposite journey of lot of the others. I really liked him/her at the beginning and by the end I thought s/he was a waste of humanity.
What the blurb on this book doesn’t make clear, that I really think it should, is that this is a feminist book. Or, a term that doesn’t make you think of degrading men but more empowering women. Louisa is a very intelligent child growing up as part of an upper-middle class family in Victorian England. She wants to be a doctor just like her father and grandfather. She does science experiments in her bedroom, reads as much as she can, and knows that she is just as capable as any man to go after her dreams. Dreams that do not include getting married and having children and running a house that will be a safe retreat from the world for her husband. The brief glimpses Louisa’s mother shows her of what a woman’s life is like only serve to make her more determined to be a doctor.
I really loved Louisa’s spunk and courage. You see her yell at a table full of men and tell them that she is just as capable as all them to be smart and have a career. When she is trapped in Wildthorn she doesn’t dismiss the people around her as lunatics, she tries to find out their stories as well. She wants to help all of them as much as she wants to escape from her prison. Even during her darkest hours she expresses concern for others and shows herself to have that…quality…that we wish all doctors had. The need to see something through to the end.
The one thing I wish the book had more of was admirable male characters. There was only one. And I’m all for books being about how women can be just as, if not more, intelligent and capable then men but that doesn’t mean the men in their lives need to simpering morons. While Louisa’s father was a fantastic male role-model who obviously loved his daughter and was so proud of how smart she was, he was the only instance of this that we saw. I like intelligent men as much as I like intelligent women.
Although, to be fair, that weren’t all that many good female role-models in this book either. The time period Wildthorn takes place in is showcased well, right down to women who are raised believing that their only purpose is to get married and run the household. When I finally did find out why Louisa was accused of being insane I wanted to slap every single character in this book. Male or female, good or bad. The differences between this time and that one are showcased perfectly.
I’ve heard some criticism that the ending was too happy for such a dark book but I disagree. I don’t think Louisa’s life was all sunshine and daisies after these events, I think the author simply chose to end the book with a happy scene.