Another favorite, reviewed in the November 2019 issue of Historical Novels Review — Sarah Donati’s Where the Light Enters (Berkeley, 2019):
This long, absorbing novel is the sequel to Donati’s enthusiastically received The Gilded Hour, a multi-family epic centered on the lives of Anna and Sophie Savard, cousins who attempt to further the cause of medical care for women in post-Civil War New York. Descended from the extended fictional family that is the subject of Donati’s celebrated Wilderness series, both young women continue their efforts to practice medicine and fight for the welfare of mothers and children.
In the previous novel, they found love and danger while helping a charismatic lawyer-and-detective team solve a series of harrowing child murders. In this novel, the cousins are reunited: Anna married to the kindhearted detective Jack Mezzanotte, and Sophie returning from a honeymoon tragically cut short by her bridegroom’s death from tuberculosis. As Sophie grieves and struggles to make something useful of her husband’s legacy, Anna enlists her aid in attempting to discover the identity of a murderous abortionist before they strike again.
This sprawling tale has a huge cast of intriguing characters; Donati’s clever device of beginning the book with a series of letters, news clippings, and telegrams will help readers who missed the first novel catch up quickly. The cousins’ nemesis, the real-life crusader against vice, Anthony Comstock, returns in this outing as well, and the talented, brilliant women must call on their wide network of loving, activist family members to combat his sinister efforts to oppress women and the poor.
Each character is fully and lovingly realized, and Donati adds a few other point-of-view characters without ever confusing the reader. Her knowledge of 19th century New York is such that walking the kaleidoscopic streets alongside the fascinating Savard cousins feels absolutely real. This is a satisfying family saga as well as an absorbing mystery that readers will hate to see end, but it’s very likely Donati is not finished with the charming Mezzanotte-Savard clan.(© KRISTEN MCDERMOTT 2019)