WILDTHORN by Jane Eagland
jacket flap blurb
Louisa Cosgrove is Louisa Cosgrove—not Lucy Childs. Or, is she?
A horse-drawn carriage takes her to the wrong place: Wildthorn Hall, an asylum for the insane.
This must be a great misunderstanding. They strip her naked, of everything—undo her whalebone corset hook by hook. They take her identity. But she is still seventeen—still Louisa Cosgrove—isn’t she?
To untangle the mysterious, wretched present, she remembers the past.
I wished I were a boy.
Locked away in the dingy bowles of the hall, she feels a fire burn inside her. She remembers her cousin. She remembers Papa.
I want to be a doctor.
She is determined to escape—and only love will set her free.
It was a hard book to read, just because of the subject matter, but ultimately satisfying. It starts with Louisa arriving at Wildthorn Hall, to her confusion. She was under the impression she was to be a companion to the daughter of Mr. Woodville. Almost immediately upon arrival, she realizes something is wrong. But it takes her a while to realize, fully, that she has been committed into an asylum under the name Lucy Childs.
I found her reaction to arriving at the Hall (which she initially believes to be the wealthy Woodville’s home) very realistic. She didn’t put up a big fight, but her unsureness, her anxiety, her fear was well-written and conveyed in a believable matter.
The “memories” referred to in the jacket-flap aren’t flashbacks as such; the second chapter starts “Eleven years earlier.” Afterwards, the chapters alternate between the present and the past (ten years, eight years, six years, one year, seven months, etc) until the past catches up with the present and the recollection chapters stop. This would have been jarring, except for the way the book was organized. The chapters are grouped into four parts and a short epilogue. The memories are only for part one. I liked that, it was well done.
What I didn’t like was that the chapters were not labeled. Each chapter started about a fifth of the way down the page, with the first letter in a fancy chapter-starting font, so it was clear when chapters were. They just weren’t labeled “chapter one, chapter two, chapter three,” and so on. I would have liked some sort of labeling, for easy reference, I suppose, but it wasn’t a huge issue.
Now for the characters. As I said, I liked Louisa. She was compassionate, ambitious, smart, and strong-willed. She was trusting, but not in a naive way. She was also brave without being fearless. She was an excellent protagonist, really, and well fleshed-out.
Surprisingly, so were the other characters. For most of the book, I really disliked Tom. I felt there was nothing redeemable about his character whatsoever. Frankly, I kind of hated him. He felt like the antagonist. But, in the end, he wasn’t The Enemy. He was just a pathetic fool, who I still disliked but—like Louisa—couldn’t bring myself to outright hate. In fact, there were very few characters that felt like straight-up villains, like Voldemort; there only to oppose the protagonist. With the exception of Weeks, I can’t think of a single character that didn’t feel fleshed out and real.
As frustrating as many of them were—particularly Mamma, Tom, and Beatrice—they all had realistic reasons for their behavior and goals they were hoping to achieve through that behavior. Just like people. And sometimes they didn’t act in a logical way, or do what I would think would be the obvious thing (I’m looking at you, Beatrice), but that’s exactly what real people do.
And the romance. The romance between Louisa and Eliza was excellent, I loved it (though I think their names are a bit too similar—or maybe I’m just mis-pronouncing them?). But between Grace and Louisa? I wasn’t so sure. Grace and Louisa’s romance is in the flashbacks, and it’s ultimately ties into why Louisa was sent to Wildthorn. However, I feel that Louisa went too quickly from seeing Grace as a close friend to realizing she’s in love with her. It’s possible this was due to the timing of the flashbacks—the first couple are fairly far apart—or it could have been an effort to let the reader know this was more of a first crush than real love. But for me, it felt too sudden a change from their previous dynamic. I would have liked some more build-up.
To end on a good note, one of my favorite things was the ending. The final chapter ends in a horribly crushing fashion, but then I read the epilogue and it all made since and I was left with a smile when I closed the cover. It was excellent.
rating out of five stars