In this fifth novel in Michaels’ (The Price of Compassion, 2018, etc.) Golden City series, set in 19th-century San Francisco, an intrepid young woman rebels against her parents and refuses to conform to high society’s expectations.
The story opens in 1893 at the home of young Katherine “Kit” Firestone as she and her friends, Cecily Anders and Bea Marshall, play in a tree while their parents socialize. From up in the branches, the girls overhear Cecily’s father and Bea’s mother discussing an extramarital affair. The story quickly jumps five years forward, when 18-year-old Kit allows a secret courtship to turn physical. She soon realizes that her feelings for the young man, Easton Challis, are fleeting. She agonizes over how to let him down easy, but then she’s shocked to learn that he’s proposed to her old friend Cecily. Worse yet, it appears that Easton has already impregnated Cecily and infected her with syphilis. (He’d used a prophylactic with Kit.) As Kit attempts to nurse Cecily back to health, her desire to help her friend sparks a passion for practicing medicine and protecting women’s rights. The narrative shifts back in time repeatedly to show Kit’s mother, Josephine, as a young woman. Due to tragedies in her youth, Josephine also found solace in helping female friends and championing feminism. Rather than recognizing their mutual activist spirits, Kit and her mother only butt heads. Indeed, readers are likely to wonder whether it’s possible for Kit and Josephine to stop arguing long enough to realize their similarities and use their mutual passions productively. Still, the novel’s fast-paced narrative and engaging dialogue will draw readers in from the start. It’s full of intriguing details about San Francisco near the turn of the last century, and it also provides engaging information about the evolution of medicine—and women’s health care, in particular. There are a few too many distracting subplots and tangents, and the book might have fared better if it were split into multiple volumes. Even so, the various threads remain compelling, and the novel as a whole provides a titillating journey through history.
A solidly entertaining, feminist tale that’s also well-suited for medical-history buffs.