GENRE: historical fiction/young adult
They strip her naked, of everything—undo her whalebone corset, hook by hook. Locked away in Wildthorn Hall—a madhouse—they take her identity. She is now called Lucy Childs. She has no one; she has nothing. But, she is still seventeen—still Louisa Cosgrove, isn't she? Who has done this unthinkable deed? Louisa must free herself, in more ways than one, and muster up the courage to be her true self, all the while solving her own twisted mystery and falling into an unconventional love.
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Wildthorn presents Victorian England from a dark angle, focusing on the ways of an asylum called Wildthorn Hall.
It all begins when seventeen-year-old Louisa Cosgrove is sent away from home to be a companion at the Woodville household, but things go terribly wrong, as she ends up being locked up in an asylum, forced to respond to the name of Lucy Childs and sever all contacts with her family. Life at Wildthorn hall is bleak and hopeless. Louisa finds herself surrounded by women who are (supposedly) insane and (most of) the staff tries to convince her that she is mad herself. Louisa is confused and frightened, but she reacts well, knowing that any protests on her part might put her in danger. She obeys, but does not remain passive, for she is determined to find out why she is in an asylum, and by whose orders.
The narrative alternates between the past and the present of Louisa’s life. The reader gets to know the crucial events before Louisa’s “imprisonment”, as well as Louisa herself. She is a strong and determined young woman, and also very different. Her father educated her very well and she wants to be a doctor. Her knowledge and her desire to study medicine are heavily frowned upon by her family and her acquaintances, but Louisa is determined to be happy. I truly liked Louisa’s character. She was strong, intelligent and eager to follow her dreams. There was one thing that bothered me greatly, though. She is very different as it is and her family does not approve of her. On top of it all, her sexual orientation is different as well. I think this is just a bit much for one character and a bit too reminiscent of Fingersmith by Sarah Waters. Also, for the first time, Louisa fell in love with a person she really shouldn’t have and that was going a bit far.
Louisa’s life before Wildthorn Hall was well-presented, but her stay in the asylum really left an impression on me. That was a dark, gothic place and it gave me a very claustrophobic feeling, which is a compliment, as it means the author achieved her purpose. Wildthorn Hall is a nasty place that uses bad methods to cure the insane, yet Victorian hierarchy is still very important, but even this semblance of order does not alleviate the discomfort one feels when reading about Louisa’s strife in that place.
The novel tackles feminism, gender equality, Victorian propriety and how people saw the human mind in Victorian times. When one was different, one could quickly get into trouble, especially if someone was a woman standing out on many levels. There is even lesbian love.
All in all, the novel was a gripping read, with a very dramatic and shocking final revelation. It was a bit awkward in places and as I’ve said, I was bothered by the fact that Louisa was simply too different and too ahead of her time for a Victorian lady. I would also have liked to know when exactly the story took place. I felt a bit lost time-wise, as it was never specifically said which decade served for the time setting. The ending was expected after the final revelation, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but it resembled Fingersmith quite a bit.
However, I truly did enjoy reading the novel. It was a good historical, young adult drama.
I received a copy of the novel from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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