We have always been tantalized and fascinated with stories of women who crossdress as men in order to achieve their dreams, hide their pasts, or escape dangerous situations. Women who take the place of their men in war, like Melinda Blalock, are heroines. Women who masquerade as men in order to become members of orchestras or bands, like Billy Tipton, gave a clandestine furtiveness to the history of American Jazz. Women who contributed to modern medicine in the guise of men, like Margaret Ann Bulkley, who ended her military career as Inspector General of Military Hospitals, overcame the barriers presented by their sex to excel in their chosen fields. In fiction, the woman who must hide her true self in a world of frockcoats and trousers presents a wealth of dramatic possibilities. Glenn Close gave a tragically beautiful performance in Albert Nobbs, a film about a woman who works as a male waiter in a hotel, hoping to save enough money to open a small tobacco shop, who is given a glimpse of the happiness she could be experiencing in sharing her life with a likeminded female partner.
Annalie Wendeberg has created just such an intriguing character in her Sherlockian series, the Anna Kronberg thrillers. Anna Kronberg has taken on the disguise of a man in order to attend medical school, complete her training, and practice medicine. She remains undiscovered until she is called to perform an examination on the corpse of a cholera victim. Her secret is quickly discarded by the detective evaluating the case, the great Sherlock Holmes. So begins Wendeberg’s continuing series about Dr. Kronberg, as she helps Holmes unravel the mystery of the cholera patient and a threat of biological warfare, becomes a prisioner of Holmes’ archenemy Moriarity, and has to flee for her life from Moriarity’s murderous henchmen.
Kronberg is a wonderful character, prickly, independent, analytical, intelligent, and often unreasonable, but grounded in altruism and a deep love for her father, who always encouraged her and never constrained her ambitions. Holmes is presented as a brilliant but flawed individual, damaged by the psychological torments of his childhood, and with a mildly autistic inability to respond with appropriate human reactions to emotional situations. Much like the Mary Russell books by Laurie King, the Kronberg stories show Holmes drawing emotionally closer to his distaff companion. The male masquerade aspect of the stories is handled deftly, with a great deal of insight into what care someone like Anna must take in maintaining the illusion of masculinity, and the stresses it induces. It would best serve the reader to begin with the first book in the series, as this third volume stands alone only with some difficulty, but it is a welcome addition to the chronology and whets the appetite for the next episode.
Less light entertainment than the Wendeberg is Laird Hunt’s book, Neverhome. Fantasy freak has already done a review from the more sociological aspect, so I shall only add my impressions of the book as literature and entertainment. Neverhome is a tragedy, a heartbreaking narrative of a woman who takes her frail husband’s place in the conscription of the American Civil War because she is stronger, a better shot, and more able to deal with the emotional aspects of leaving home for the unknowable events of a war. Ash Thompson undergoes a multileveled transformation from farmwife to hardened soldier throughout the course of the book, suffering great indignities among her fellow soldiers, confused epiphanies in the care of a widow drawn to her strength, harrowing experiences in a madhouse, and a denial of peace even when she is able to return to the home for which she longed.
Laird Hunt’s writing is lyrical, and his characters breathe with a light that illuminates their deepest thoughts. The book compels the reader to turn page after page, begging the story to give up its twists and turns. Ash always rings true. Her attempts to reason out her situation, to make the right choices, and to achieve her deeply desired goals plunge sharp thorns into our emotions, making us wish we could give her access to the peace and calm she needs.
Neverhome is a lovely prose poem, and a compelling story that directs the introspection of the reader and introduces an unforgettable protagonist in Ash. I strongly recommend it.
- In accordance with FTC guidelines for bloggers and endorsements, I would like to clarify that the books reviewed by me are either purchased/borrowed by me, or provided by the publisher/author free of charge. I am neither compensated for my reviews nor are my opinions influenced in any way by the avenues in which I obtain my materials. I received Neverhome for free from Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.
- Print Length:256 pages
- Simultaneous Device Usage:Unlimited
- Publisher:Annelie Wendeberg; 1 edition (August 4, 2014)
- Sold by:Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
- Print Length:247 pages
- Page Numbers Source ISBN:0316370134
- Publisher:Little, Brown and Company (September 9, 2014)
- Sold by:Hachette Book Group
Reviewed by Paula Tupper September 20, 2014