Where The Light Enters, a review by Joanna

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Where The Light Enters
Sara Donati

654 pages
Published in 2019



This is an intricate historical fiction novel set in 1880s New York, about two female doctors battling the male hierarchy. It’s the sequel to 2015’s The Gilded Hour, and while you don’t necessarily have to have read that one to understand what’s going on, it definitely helped to know the character background and dynamics. I got it from my Book Club several years ago, but had been waiting for the right time to read them both – apparently the next one is due out this year. It’s taken me nearly three weeks to finish, partly because it’s so long – unnecessarily so, I would argue, although I’ll admit that I’ve had a lot going on so not much opportunity to read. I did like it, but am rounding down from 3.5 for the slow pace and slightly depressing ending.

Dr Anna Savard and her new husband, detective Jack ,Mezzanotte, are distraught when the three Italian children they rescued in the previous book are removed from their care on religious grounds, due to the interference of the a hypocritical Catholic priest. They are however soon distracted by a new homicide case with disturbing similarities to the Multipara Murders of women seeking abortions, and the disappearance of a prominent socialite. Former nun turned medical student Elise has joined the extended Waverley Place family, and is working hard to show she deserves her place. Meanwhile Anna’s cousin, obstetrician Sophie Savard, has returned from Europe after the death of her husband to start her new life, but soon faces the prejudice of both the medical system and the malicious media who can’t see past her skin colour.
As in the previous book, this had a lot of entwined plot threads which made it sometimes hard to remember who was who and what was happening. I enjoyed all the well researched medical details and felt the frustration of the physicians’ inability to help their patients because of the limited array of treatments available to them, and the injustice of the society within which they practice. I didn’t however enjoy the Tonino storyline – the disadvantage of having medical knowledge is you recognise early what’s going to happen and can predict the (minor spoiler alert) unhappy outcome: haven’t these characters suffered enough? While the book is very positive about its female heroines, it relies on all the usual “women and children as victims” tropes which was a negative for me.
I had complained that the serial killer plot line in the last book was left open – this does resolve it and at least made the last part of the book more exciting. Other elements and characters were however developed, but then left open – if this is to be a trilogy then that’s ok, but if you’re going to do that, leaving a four year gap between books is asking a lot from your readers. There is again way too much uninteresting detail about the characters’ domestic lives and inter-relationships, and if you’re looking for a romance subplot, you’ll need to wait for book three. Will I read the next one? Maybe, especially if I can shift out of my current slump and make a dent in my towering TBR, but it won’t be high priority.

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