Audrey Blake is the pen name of not one author, but of two. Authors Regina Sirois and Jaima Fixsen teamed up to write this riveting and intelligent work of historical fiction about a young woman who develops a passion for medicine after being orphaned in the cholera epidemic and growing up in the home of the eccentric doctor who saved her life. This book is a tribute to the real life pioneers in medicine, not only the women who defied the odds to follow careers in a field that barred them on the basis of sex, but to the men who championed the intellects of their female peers, risking damage to their reputations and careers for their principles against sexism.
Nora Beady, after being left an orphan when cholera raged through London, is raised in the home of Horace Croft, a fiercely intelligent but eccentric physician. In 1845, Nora quietly cultivates her own secret career in medicine, assisting Dr. Croft with treating patients, surgical procedures, and autopsies. She reads the same literature as he does, and voraciously feeds the appetite of her curiosity, knowing full well the damage done to both her own future and Dr. Croft’s if she were to be exposed. When a young doctor arrives unexpectedly to join Dr. Croft’s practice, it threatens to bring about the demise of everything Nora has built for herself.
This novel is full of intensely well researched medical information. The two collective authors who are Audrey Blake did an impeccable job of researching this. It’s also exceptionally exciting despite all the detail. I never really found myself getting bogged down, as I typically feel I would with something so scientifically detailed. The characters are rich and compelling. I especially liked Dr. Croft, a man whose genius is only marred by his distraction from mundane matters of life and propensity toward laser focus on his career. He is muddled, cluttered, and still infinitely charming. Nora is a complex woman of character. She’s both stubborn and genuine, and her intelligence is unrivaled, even amongst those male peers who would never stoop to seeing a woman as their peer.
Another fascinating and wonderful character is Daniel Gibson, the young and inexperienced doctor who joins Dr. Croft’s practice in order to learn from the master. I loved his story arc, and it was incredibly believable and authentic. Here is a man stuck between his adherence to things as he’s always been taught they should be and a niggling suspicion that what has always been acceptable isn’t necessarily what is right. Daniel is a fabulous figure representing progress. With an open mind, prejudice can be replaced by enlightenment. History is shaped by these heroic people. If it weren’t for the Nora’s and Daniel’s of the world, we wouldn’t have come as far as we have today. Progress is contagious, but only if we spread the seeds of intellect.
What Blake has written is a story that isn’t often told. In the world of historical fiction, this is a unique work of literature, and I’m so glad they undertook the task. I would highly recommend this book to fans of authors like Geraldine Brooks, a well researched work of historical fiction that is detailed, compelling, and well paced. The driving force of the novel is the fabulous character development, which leads the reader to truly care about the fate of Nora and her friends, leaving us on the edge of our seats as their world seems to come crashing down around them. I also applaud the fierce and unapologetic feminist undercurrent from which the authors never sway. While there is a tad bit of romance in the story, it never distracts from the more important narrative driving Nora’s story.
I give this one 4 1/2 stars. Exceptional historical fiction novel, and I can’t wait for the sequel!