A gothic tale full of mystery and romance about a willful female surgeon, a resurrection man who sells bodies for a living, and the buried secrets they must uncover together.
Hazel Sinnett is a lady who wants to be a surgeon more than she wants to marry.
Jack Currer is a resurrection man who’s just trying to survive in a city where it’s too easy to die.
When the two of them have a chance encounter outside the Edinburgh Anatomist’s Society, Hazel thinks nothing of it at first. But after she gets kicked out of renowned surgeon Dr. Beecham’s lectures for being the wrong gender, she realizes that her new acquaintance might be more helpful than she first thought. Because Hazel has made a deal with Dr. Beecham: if she can pass the medical examination on her own, the university will allow her to enroll. Without official lessons, though, Hazel will need more than just her books – she’ll need bodies to study, corpses to dissect.
Lucky that she’s made the acquaintance of someone who digs them up for a living, then.
But Jack has his own problems: strange men have been seen skulking around cemeteries, his friends are disappearing off the streets. Hazel and Jack work together to uncover the secrets buried not just in unmarked graves, but in the very heart of Edinburgh society.
**Anatomy: A Love Story comes out January 18, 2022**
Thank you Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press for this copy in exchange for an honest review
I will be upfront and acknowledge that this book may not be for absolutely everyone, and I will break down why it worked for me.
In the vein of Lydia Kang’s historical novels on medicine (see Quackery), Anatomy: A Love Story is very much, well, on anatomy and surgeries. But unlike what we may think of as modern day surgeries, the early 1800s was a scary place if you needed to be operated on. Think dirty conditions, hospitals packed for the poor while the rich had doctors come to their own homes, and operations conducted with no anesthesia.
In such a time like this, we meet our protagonist Hazel. I absolutely adored her! She had a lifelong passion to be a surgeon, which was an inconceivable notion for a woman, let alone a lady of her status. Surgeons were also considered a lesser profession than physicians because they cut into bodies, something a *gasp* woman could never do with her sensitivities (insert heavy sarcasm). Nonetheless, she fought every obstacle in her way and this is what was the heart of this story. If this excites you, then congratulations, this book will make your heart leap for joy at her successes and rave at everyone when those obstacles grew so large.
This is a story about defying the boundaries and expectations placed on you in order to achieve what you’re meant to do. It reminded me a lot on the fight for woman’s rights (such as found in A Mad, Wicked Folly) and I wanted to fight with Hazel so much as a woman in science myself.
Now, there are two other elements in this story that were just as lovely but were not as represented as one may have initially expected from the synopsis.
Meeting Jack and partnering with him comes a little later in the book, probably closer to the halfway point. We do get POVs from Jack prior to this decision, and Jack and Hazel do also meet at some point before as well, but this doesn’t develop for a while. There was a lot of foundational set up of the time and Hazel’s desperation to become a licensed surgeon.
But once we do have this potential relationship going, it was just all hearts from there! Jack is such a gem, and it helped that we got to know him outside of his interactions with Hazel at first. He’s had a rough life on the poorer outskirts of society, but he’s worked hard to care for himself. Although he and Hazel could not be more different in many ways, their love story filled my heart and I just yearned for the very best for them. I will admit that I wanted MORE of this precious relationship on the pages, but I can understand why it wasn’t necessarily the focus.
There is also the mysterious element regarding disappearing people. This was a little predictable to me – perhaps I read too many thrillers and mysteries – but it connected with the overall story well and didn’t feel like a throwaway.
It is by far the least of these 3 focal points of the book so please don’t come in thinking it plays in a super major way. It’s present and definitely comes to the forefront at some point, but this isn’t a mystery book. I will say I enjoyed its connection to the story but it’s not suspenseful or particularly thrilling to my standards.
So if you have a love of science (even in a minuscule way) and stories about overcoming all the obstacles to achieve your goals, this is the book for you. The romance was beautiful and the story flowed together, albeit less focused on these areas.
I got to the end and my heart needed a moment to stop and take a deep breath. I was so immersed in the story and just wished I had more. I thought the ending was beautifully written with the right amount of open-endedness for interpretation.
Anatomy: A Love Story delivered well on its central theme of overcoming obstacles to do what you love. Hazel was the perfect protagonist in this situation, a young lady who wanted to be a surgeon in a purely male-dominated field. It really immersed us into early 1800 Edinburgh as she fought so many obstacles in her way to pursue her dream and passion. The romance with Jack, a resurrection man aka a grave digger, happened later in the book but their partnership was just the cutest and most wholesome thing ever! There was also a mystery in play but these elements were not the focal points, although they were all connected well with the main part of the story. This may not be for everyone, especially if you thought it was purely a great romance novel, but I personally loved the historical science of it. Dana Schwartz is definitely being added to my list of writers to look out for.