The Anatomist's Apprentice - Tessa Harris

~~Moved from GR~~

The Anatomist's Apprentice

by Tessa Harris




As soon as I saw the ridiculously attractive cover-art and intruiging title, I couldn't wait to tear into the story. To my disappointment, I found I really shouldn't have judged this one by its cover. 

The story takes place in England in the late Georgian period--about twenty or thirty years before Jane Austen's time. The main character, a surgeon from Philadelphia, is brought into the case of a suspicious death by the beautiful Lady Lydia. Graphic death scenes, a shallow and improbable InstaLove romance, and generalized "historical atmosphere" follow.

Call me crazy, but one thing I tend to expect of historical novels is some level of historical accuracy. Harris clearly did some amount of research for this book, but in my opinion, she just didn't do enough. I'm certainly no expert on the late Georgian era, but even I found so many jarring inconsistencies and errors that I found the story difficult to read. These range from anachronistic phrasing (for example, a woman is described as "passing out") to severe and significant errors in understanding of social conventions of the time. For example, a large portion of the plot is dependent on the inheritance of an earl, which is shown passing to his sister and her husband. Even a casual reader would know that the land of an earl would be entailed. One might argue that someone in the family broke the entail or there are no heirs male, but there is no mention of peculiarities and several male relatives in the correct line are actually mentioned. Since Harris seems to get the titles of the earl and his sister wrong, I suspect a lack of research. The characters also routinely break social custom; for example, Lydia turns up alone in Silkstone's rooms to introduce herself, all of the upper-class characters are appallingly free with their servants, and Lydia doesn't even wear mourning for her brother. Possibly even more problematically, the Philadelphian doctor is treated as though he is of the same class as the upper-level gentry. I still can't figure out exactly what Silkstone is. He is given the title of "doctor", but repeatedly referred to as a "surgeon." (In the Georgian period, these terms delineated the barely-gentlemanly physicians from the lower-class sawbones.) He unabashedly practices a trade, yet is treated by the aristocracy as one of the gentry. He, as well as other physicians (some with titles, no less!) are described as happily participating in the dirty business of dissection. Just getting their hands dirty places them far down on the social ladder. 

These could be seen as minor liberties taken to create an interesting story, but not only were there far more anachronisms than I listed here, but I have to wonder: given my lack of historical knowledge of the time, just how many errors didn't I catch?

I listened to this on audio, but not even the spirited narration of Simon Vance could rescue this for me. If you like historical romance with a dash of mystery and a certain amount of liberty with historical veracity, this may be a fun read. To prevent myself from accidentally confusing anachronistic flights of fancy with historical truth, I did not finish the story.