Blake, Audrey. The Surgeon’s Daughter. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks Landmark, 2022.
ISBN-13: 978-1728228754 | $16.99 USD | 384 pages | Historical Fiction
“[A] richly detailed, expertly paced saga of the only female student attending a prestigious medical school in Italy…a truly captivating heroine, for then and for now.” —Sally Cabot Gunning, author of The Widow’s War and Painting the Light
From the USA Today bestselling author of The Girl in His Shadow comes a riveting historical fiction novel about the women in medicine who changed the world forever.
Women’s work is a matter of life and death.
Nora Beady, the only female student at a prestigious medical school in Bologna, is a rarity. In the 19th century women are expected to remain at home and raise children, so her unconventional, indelicate ambitions to become a licensed surgeon offend the men around her.
Everything changes when she allies herself with Magdalena Morenco, the sole female doctor on-staff. Together the two women develop new techniques to improve a groundbreaking surgery: the Cesarean section. It’s a highly dangerous procedure and the research is grueling, but even worse is the vitriolic response from men. Most don’t trust the findings of women, and many can choose to deny their wives medical care.
Already facing resistance on all sides, Nora is shaken when she meets a patient who will die without the surgery. If the procedure is successful, her work could change the world. But a failure could cost everything: precious lives, Nora’s career, and the role women will be allowed to play in medicine.
Perfect for book clubs and for fans of Marie Benedict, Tracey Enerson Wood, and Sarah Penner comes a captivating celebration of women healthcare workers throughout history.
I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley and am voluntarily posting a review. All opinions are my own.
The Girl in His Shadow is pretty much a perfect book…which is why I’m dismayed to find that the follow-up, The Surgeon’s Daughter, just felt like a mostly unnecessary sequel that messed with everything that was working just fine.
I do like the continued exploration of Nora’s life pursuing medicine, this time studying in Bologna. There are some new and intriguing challenges she faces, as she finds a new ally in another female doctor and learns about the Cesarean section and how it could advance women’s healthcare. And with that, there’s even more misogynistic scrutiny on her, which she battles throughout the book.
But I found myself feeling very underwhelmed overall, even though I do find Nora to be a generally sympathetic protagonist. And part of that was the approach to some of the subplots, particularly the romance, which seemed settled seemed almost nonexistent this time around, with them being separated. The authors claim in the interview at the end of the book that they were trying to “move away from [romance] genre conventions,” and that after having gone through the journey of finding each other, Nora and Daniel to “see them navigate some hard tests” and that they “enjoyed portraying a ‘real-life’ love story where the partners are more than the sum of their individual selves.” It read to me as a real misunderstanding of romance as a genre and the way love is portrayed in a variety of different ways. It’s odd, as this book is even technically categorized as a genre romance (and they even note it’s not a romance novel), but are still pushing the weird marketing scheme by trying to be “not like other romances.” It also felt to me like they really failed at capturing the “real-life” love story they wanted, as while I rooted for Nora and Daniel in the first book, I couldn’t care less for either of them and whether they’d stay together. I didn’t even feel that invested in Daniel’s solo arc.
I’m very reluctant to continue reading more about these characters, given that I felt very little was accomplished in this book on that front, other than retreading the same issues, albeit with somewhat higher stakes, and the romantic subplot didn’t deliver (to be fair, questionable comments from the authors aside, multiple book romantic subplots frequently are a hard sell for me). I can see the appeal for others who enjoyed the first book who don’t have my particular hang-ups. It could be a case of the execution being not for me.
Audrey Blake has a split personality–because she is the creative alter ego of writing duo Jaima Fixsen and Regina Sirois, two authors who met as finalists of a writing contest and have been writing together happily ever since. They share a love of history, nature, literature and stories of redoubtable women. Both are prairie girls: Jaima hails from Alberta, Canada, and Regina calls the wheatfields of Kansas home.
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