Title: Where the Light Enters
Author: Sara Donati
Published: September 17th 2019
Publisher: Penguin Books Australia
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Rating: 4.5 stars
In this spellbinding historical epic, Sara Donati (bestselling author of the Wilderness series) combines romance and mystery to tell the story of two pioneering women in nineteenth-century Manhattan. The sequel to The Gilded Hour.
Obstetrician Dr Sophie Savard returns home to the achingly familiar rhythms of Manhattan in the early spring of 1884 to rebuild her life after the death of her husband. With the help of Dr Anna Savard, her dearest friend, cousin, and fellow physician, she plans to continue her work aiding the disadvantaged women society would rather forget.
As Sophie sets out to construct a new life for herself, Anna’s husband, Detective Sergeant Jack Mezzanotte calls on them both to consult on two new cases: the wife of a prominent banker has disappeared into thin air, and the corpse of a young woman is found with baffling wounds that suggest a killer is on the loose.
In New York it seems that the advancement of women has brought out the worst in some men. And Sophie and Anna are soon drawn into a dangerous game of cat and mouse . . .
From the international bestselling author of The Gilded Hour comes Sara Donati’s enthralling epic about two trailblazing female doctors in nineteenth-century New York.
My introduction to the work of historical fiction novelist Sara Donati (the pen name for Rosina Lippi) began with a beautifully crafted and thoughtful letter to the reader.
“In order to write, I read and listen. You cannot write stories if you don’t immerse yourself in stories. You can’t write historical fiction if you don’t do everything in your power to understand the way people once lived their lives. I write historical fiction because there are so many stories that have gone untold, and I feel compelled to share them.”
Something about this personalised and passionate letter sang to me as a big historical fiction fan. Where the Light Enters is concerned with the stories we seldom get to hear, about women, immigrants, the right to education, life as an orphan, females in medicine and women’s health – among other major themes. I was really looking forward to delving into this novel. Where the Light Enters is the follow on novel to The Gilded Hour, published by Sara Donati in 2015. I would have loved to have read The Gilded Hour, prior to Where the Light Enters, but unfortunately my current schedule didn’t allow this to happen. However, based on my enjoyment of Donati’s writing, I have made it a priority to put The Gilded Hour, along with the Into the Wilderness series on the top of my reading list.
Sara Donati’s latest set piece is a sprawling novel, set in the nineteenth-century, in New York. Where the Light Enters pays homage to the work of two pioneers of this time, female doctors Sophie Savard and Anna Savard. Following the sad loss of her husband, obstetrician Dr Sophie Savard settles back into life in Manhattan, in an attempt to move on from her shock loss. With the support of her cousin and colleague, Dr Anna Savard, the two work tirelessly to improve the medical conditions of those on struggle street, the women society cares to neglect. In the process of building a new life, Anna and Sophie both become embroiled in two intricate cases, with Anna’s Detective husband Jack Mezzanotte. With a possible murderer sweeping the streets of New York, it is a dangerous place for women of any class or creed – especially for Sophie and Anna.
Where the Light Enters is a grand scale masterpiece and it is a perfect example of quality historical fiction. The commitment that the author has demonstrated to her latest release is absolutely astounding. Where the Light Enters is a meticulously researched novel, full of rich period detail and authentic medical knowledge. Sara Donati has carefully matched her historical background, with full bodied characterisation and a wholly engaging storyline.
When I first unwrapped this book parcel and I held the novel in my hands I was taken aback by the sheer weight of this novel. At 650 pages, Where the Light Enters is a heavy book, but it offers plenty of entertainment value. Where the Light Enters will consume you, offering hours and hours of reading pleasure. I personally enjoyed being immersed in New York in the nineteenth-century and I felt incredibly inspired by the work of the leads. Where the Light Enters is a ground breaking novel, highlighting the tough path faced by educated females in the medical profession at this point in history. The sacrifice, grit, determination, independent spirit and passion of the female leads took my breath away – many times over. I was also incredibly saddened by the plight of the female citizens of this time, especially those on the fringes of society. Donati works to increase our collective consciousness around women’s health, reproduction, abortion, pregnancy, childbirth, infanticide and the terrible plight of orphans during this time. It will make your heart break, but it is imperative that we are aware that this was normal practice during the era in which Where the Light Enters is situated.
There is a suspect murder, a detailed investigation, plenty of underground detective work and a disappearance that works to keep these already busy Savard women on their toes. I enjoyed this part of Where the Light Enters and it helps to offset other aspects of the narrative. I picked up on a number of resounding themes from Where the Light Enters, from race relations, the class system, gender inequality, religion, politics, the US economy, familial relationships, the judicial system, health care and child neglect. Many of these issues will strike a tough chord, but there are moments of light, as well as a hope, that underscore the bleak reality of this book.
Where the Light Enters has a very unique format, which I found impressive – to say the least. Preceding the story itself are a number of introductory prompts. These include a list of primary characters listed by location and family origin, a family tree and a map of key reference points. The first fifty pages of Where the Light Enters unfolds in letters, envelopes (authentically handwritten and printed with stamps), newspaper articles, police correspondence, hospital records and telegrams. Many of these excerpts are included in the main narrative, which I appreciated. The authenticity of these extra layers to the narrative are magnificent, as they allow the reader to truly interact with this text.
Before closing off this review I need to offer a gentle word of advice. To appreciate the full worth of Where the Light Enters and the effort the author has undertaken to produce a novel of such strong stature, I would recommend turning to The Gilded Hour first, as it will give you good grounding for this one. I have also been informed by a big fan of Sara Donati’s work that there are loose links to Donati’s famous Into the Wilderness series that crop up in Where the Light Enters. While this aspect of the book went completely over my head, I’m sure it will please loyal followers of Donati’s work. My final hint is to make sure you have plenty of uninterrupted reading time to complete surrender yourself to Where the Light Enters, it is a book that you will want to read – without life’s distractions!
Where the Light Enters is an immersive set piece, that takes the reader on an unforgettable journey from start to finish. Written by a highly skilled and masterful novelist, any historical fiction fan should make a conscious effort to let this book, and series, into their heart.
Where the Light Enters by Sara Donati was published on 17th September 2019 by Penguin Books Australia. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of Where the Light Enters, Sara Donati, visit here.
*I wish to thank Penguin Books Australia for providing me with a free copy of this book for review purposes.