The Anatomist’s Apprentice – Book Review
It started when I was surfing the ebook section at my local library. The idea was to find new reading material, for it has been a while since I read something all the way through. My interest had returned from fairy tales to steampunk. What I wanted was something light, fun and fast paced. Amidst the stream of vampire flooded section I found one title and skimmed very briefly the summary.
I read the title as: The Automatonist’s Apprentice (or something of that nature). Certain I was getting a steampunk mystery filled with automatons and dusty, coal-streaked London I flagged the title and waited for it to become available. It was probably this wait that distorted my memory of the book. For what I got instead was a novel dealing with dissected dead bodies and a long-winded murder mystery. I was utterly disappointed with the first chapter. It was a bucket of cold water on my eager anticipation.
However, I forged ahead with the Anatomist’s Apprentice by Tessa Harris. After all I didn’t have anything else to read and I had spent a good three minutes downloading this book. To my surprise, I started to get into the style of the writing and the intrigue of the plot.
The beginning revolves around the sudden gruesome death of a young lord, observed by his doting sister. Rumours quickly spread through the county that it may not have been naturally caused. Even the sister begins to worry over the cause of death. Eventually, an inquest is ordered. In the meantime we are introduced to a young, brilliant anatomists who has taken over for a blind professor in London. We meet him as he cuts carefully into the recently deceased flesh of a former acquaintance. The two threads of story merge when the dead lord’s sister requests the secret help of the renowned anatomist.
The piece is written in third person, though each section usually focusses on one individual at a time. While I like this style, the author kept adding new and new character voices as she wove a convoluted tale of intrigue. I was happily following along, wondering if the Harris was the type of author to add a massive twist at the end of the story or not when suddenly an unexpected romance was thrust unwelcoming upon the reader.
I think it was about halfway through the book when the two ‘primary’ characters where suddenly thrust together. I suppose it was supposed to have been a slow building of feelings, but it felt shockingly awkward in a plot focussed on a potential murder. So disconnected was their midnight rendezvous that I put the book down. I suppose her writing was not good enough to keep me engaged. The mystery that was being subtly built with layer upon layer of deception and complexity no longer held my attention.
After a period of reading nothing else, I did return to the story. I skimmed my way through two more chapters before skipping to the end. The final chapter was significantly better than I expected. It did not explain everything that happened in the last 40% of the book, but it suggested at even more complex a story than I previously imagined. In fact, while I spoiled the mystery I am actually now more intrigued by the plot than before. I just might return to this book at some future date.
In the mean time, I think I will return to my own bookshelf and the well-known friends that rest within. I know they will not disappoint me with discontinuous moments or awkward transitions. I will be safe between the familiar covers as I relive their tales.