The Gifts

Dreamscape Media. Apr. 2023. 12:44 hrs. ISBN 9781666632279. $17.99. F
Restrictive gender roles of the 1840s clip women’s wings figuratively and literally in this historical novel with elements of magic, the first adult novel from the author of Bearmouth. Narrator Tuppence Middleton offers distinct, character-appropriate voices to engage listeners, from a lord’s sneer as he disinherits his half-sister for being mixed-race to Orkney Islands brogue. The characters themselves bear a strong resemblance to the clever, brave sisters and wicked husband featured in a tale told by one winged woman, and the miraculous appearance of wings itself has a folkloric quality. Etta, the disinherited sister and an aspiring naturalist, and Natalya, the storyteller, are held captive by an obsessed (wicked) surgeon determined to claim credit for this proof of angels. Also here, chafing against societal expectations for Victorian women, are an amateur journalist following up a lead on “the Angel of the Thames” and the surgeon’s neglected and deceived wife, her artistic talent quashed by his ambition. Why these two did not grow wings or whether the “gift” of flight kept appearing across the UK or the world remains unexplored.
VERDICT Empowerment for some, just deserts for others, makes for satisfying if uncomplicated listening. An excellent pick for fans of Naomi Novik.
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