Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Review: Fearless by Nicola Claire

2.5 stars

For the most part, I didn't connect with Fearless by Nicola Claire, and I think the Gothic element had a lot to do with that. Fearless trades in the suspense of old-school Gothics, but I've never been someone who liked or was drawn in by that atmosphere of generalised fear. In fact, it's because I dislike being scared, upset or uncertain that I read romance. So when Fearless was described as the first in a "Gothic romance series [that] introduces a dark and sinister early settler New Zealand", I knew it was a risk. I took it anyway, because a) New Zealand setting and b) suffragette heroine. In the end, my relationship with it turned out pretty much as you'd expect.

The set up is that there's a Jack the Ripper copy-cat killing Suffragettes in Auckland in 1891. Anna Cassidy was trained as a surgeon by her father, who was the Chief Surgeon of the Auckland Police. However now that her father's dead, the Police Force won't have anything to do with a informally trained female doctor, even when the victims are her friends and fellow suffragettes. Inspector Andrew Kelly is investigating the deaths, and is finding it hard to turn down Anna's involvement, especially since the actual new Surgeon General is a drunkard. It also becomes increasingly obvious that, whoever the killer is, he has some kind of twisted obsession with Anna, so Kelly needs to keep her close. 

For me, the Gothic-ness made it feel very long and drawn out, because there's that slow build up of tension. I started off reading the descriptions of horribly mutilated bodies, but I ended up mainly skipping over them for my own peace of mind, which probably further reduced my ability to buy into the suspense and my investment in the characters finding the killers. But, really, there's only so much a girl can take. However, I did find the medical aspect quite interesting: the autopsy and crime scene stuff (where I read it), the use of opiates with other drugs, the movement of medical knowledge from Britain to the colonies. 

I rather liked Anna as a heroine, but I also didn't feel like she progressed very much, because the same character traits are brought home to the reader time and time again: she's fearless, clever, medically detached and strong. I didn't find it implausible that she was medically trained, but I was unsure about the way she laid claim to the title 'Dr.' and her faith that the Surgeon General position should be hers. This seems like a big step up from wanting the vote or wanting to be accepted a doctor in general; New Zealand's first female medical student, Emily Siedeberg, who began her studies in 1890, the year before the book is set, and graduated in 1896, mainly treated women and children, because this was what was acceptable. Her friend and fellow student, Margaret Cruikshank, the first woman to formally qualify and register as a doctor in New Zealand, did treat the whole community in Waimate, but only after her male colleague left to fight in WWI, and also attended to domestic tasks on house calls, such as cooking, feeding children and milking animals. So far as I know, neither ever held any position of authority, let alone one of the highest in the land.

It annoyed me that Inspector Kelly was so paternalistic to Anna, even as he recognises her strength of character and medical capabilities. To be honest, that's probably quite realistic, I just wish it had been more offset with other endearing traits. Instead, it was all 'Anna, be more ladylike', 'stay at home and knit something' and 'I'm cold and distant to you for your own good'. 

On that last note, potential readers should also be aware that this is a series, like a we're-going-to-be-following-these-same-characters-for-multiple-books series, because that sure shocked the hell out of me in the final pages. I just thought that Inspector Kelly was super belated getting his ass into gear, but there's no HFN/HEA here. So I read 355 bleeding pages of death and dreariness, thinking that at least there would be some happiness and romance at the end and then I didn't even get that. Some warning would have have been nice. 

Anyway, I've been slightly more lenient in my assessment of Kelly and Anna's relationship now that I know it wasn't meant to be a full romance arc, but at the same time, I still feel like there should have been more of a connection between the characters. The book opens with them already knowing and pining for each other (so there's not really any forward movement there, since they're still pining at the end), and while I felt like I had enough understanding into Kelly's attraction to and love for Anna, I didn't have the same insight into why she felt the same about him. 

The Auckland setting was primarily why I chose to read this book, and while that was the aspect of it I enjoyed the most, I still feel like it didn't reach its full potential. There was of course mentions of familiar places - Grey Street, Constitution Hill - and vague mentions of historical events - 'trouble in Northland' - but overall I still wasn't massively impressed. The suffragette angle was interesting and geographically and temporally linked it to late-1800s New Zealand, since we were the first to seriously campaign for and win the the vote, but apart from that, Fearless could have easily taken place in London. The author aimed for it to be "Whitechapel meets early settler New Zealand", but its dark vibe and mean streets push it towards Whitechapel and prevent it from developing Auckland as a growing colonial town. Maybe I normally wouldn't have noticed this or felt its absence so much, except that I recently read such strong portrayal of colonial Sydney in Jasper and the Dead

This was primarily a case of me not gelling with a book, but I also do feel like the lack of romance arc and the unadvertised lack of a HEA will be a potential stumbling block for a lot of other romance readers. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...