The Gilded Hour

Written by Sara Donati
Review by Tamela McCann

Cousins Anna and Sophie Savard are physicians in New York City in 1883, determined to serve their patients and bring a better life to women. At almost every turn there are those who do not wish to see them succeed, and none more vehemently than anti-vice crusader Anthony Comstock, a man who is determined that women will not receive feminine healthcare in general and birth control in particular. The cousins are just as determined, however; part of that stubborn streak must come from their Bonner ancestors of Donati’s popular Into the Wilderness series. But this determination comes at a high cost, including focusing on their professions almost to the exclusion of others and putting others in danger just by a willingness to help. Both women face personal challenges of their own, including the fact that Sophie is considered a woman of color and thus not accepted by many in society, and neither has been able to lower their barricades in order to find love. But it’s possible that all that is about to change.

This is a sweeping, captivating novel that continues the Bonner heritage by focusing on two female descendants of Nathaniel Bonner. There is a dark mystery involved, and the plight of orphaned immigrant children in New York receives much attention. Donati is a master at weaving real-life people into her stories, and she does it superbly in this novel. Above all, however, are the characters themselves, finely drawn and deeply emotional, making you experience their lives and feel their challenges acutely.

This is an outstanding first novel in a new series, and with it comes all the best feelings evoked by good writing: empathy, concern, drive, despair, and ecstasy. It’s the beginning of the best of journeys in historical fiction.