Like all the Jaded Gentleman, Dr. Rowan West may have his secrets, but he’s done his best to forgive the ghosts of his past. Until the beautiful Miss Gayle Renshaw appears on his doorstep, jeopardizing his medical practice, his reputation, and, worst of all, his heart.
Having read and reviewed the first two books in this series, I was delighted to be able to read and review this newest addition to the “Jaded Gentlemen” series.
It is a well-established historical fact that women have seldom been allowed to be the pioneers in any scientific field. Madame Curie, of course, is one notable exception, but even her life was overshadowed by the disapproval and professional blocking of her scientific education or carrying out any scientific project. Certainly we all know that women had to wait decades before being given the vote here in the United States, but it was even longer for women to have to wait before being allowed to enter the medical profession as doctors. Even Florence Nightingale, famous for her own “war horse” kinds of efforts to improve the nursing of wounded soldiers, didn’t approve of women as doctors. Only after the Civil War were women allowed to pursue a medical education and even then, many individuals would rather be dead than searching out the services of a doctor who happened to be a woman.
This novel takes up the issue of women as doctors. Dr. Rowan West, one of the “Jaded Gentlemen” who survived imprisonment in India, has come home to London and become one of that city’s most reknown physicians, mainly because he insists on treating the poor, no matter how poor or how sick, and a doctor who thinks it is OK to inquire of the patient about his/her condition, how they are feeling, what are their symptoms, etc. Strange as it may seem, such empathizing with patients was thought to be silly by the medical establishment.
Now into Dr. West’s life comes a woman, previously unknown to him, and one who is not prepared to accept any response to her request in the negative. She wants to be a doctor. As a physician known for his open mind and rather radical way of treating the sick, she plans for him to take her on as an apprentice–the accept method of introducing a person to the practice of medicine. Rowan is understandably reluctant as he knows the response she will encounter when trying to enter the university as a medical student. Gayle Renshaw is one beautiful lady but all that social polish hides a very determined woman, with financial resources, a plan, and some rather distressing personal facts about Rowan’s life she is more than willing to use to blackmail him into taking her on as an apprentice. Suffice it to say, Rowan caved as Gayle expected, but what she didn’t expect was his efforts to load her down with books and assignments and learning projects designed to get her to become discouraged and drop her whole plan. She didn’t. Rowan’s anger at being forced into this relationship gradually turns to respect and admiration. It doesn’t hurt that she is gorgeous and sexy. What does give him pause is that she is planning never to marry even though their love affair lights up the London sky.
As in the two previous novels in this series, each of the Jaded Gentlemen has to deal with the efforts of an enemy seeking to hurt and destroy this small circle of friends by any means. Those efforts continue and not knowing who will be the next target of the anonymous enemy keeps ramping up the tension, the sense of danger and mystery, and not only keeps the story’s characters on edge, but the reader as well. And as I have found to be true throughout this series, Ms Bernard’s writing, her crafting of the story, the action and interaction of the characters continues to be consistent, free of those irritating dead spots or seemingly useless pages and pages of introspection, with effective use of descriptive language. Even when the wife of one of the Gentlemen is poisoned and her life hanging by a thread, the expression of the characters’ emotions were kept in control so that there was a sense of the tension that most certainly would exist in any such situation.
Part of my reading enjoyment is a story that is well-told, one that is expressed in excellent English, with good use of verbs, adverbs, adjectives, a balanced presence of phrases, sentences that are neither too long or two short. In other words, I appreciate a writer who truly commands the language. Such a writer is Ms Bernard and her novels have been a joy to read from that linguistic standpoint. Yet she also has demonstrated the knack for allowing the language to serve the story, letting the plot and story line to shine through. I am sorry to say that there are good stories which suffer because the writer does not use good writing skills, command of the language, or a sense of good rhetorical expression to make the story come alive.
This story is also about the old wounds that some people carry around, moving on with their lives, but still bearing that hurting at the center of their hearts. Certainly that was the case with Rowan and, I think to some extent, Gayle. For Rowan it was the mysterious death of his fiance while he was in India, a death her mother continued to believe was Rowan’s doing. For Gayle, her growing hurt was rooted in her dream of being a doctor. The attitude toward gifted women that was prevalent in Victorian England was like wearing a hair shirt for those who knew they had been given talents and abilities that could benefit people positively. But it was considered improper for gently bred women. Living with those kinds of prohibitions couldn’t help but be wounding. And in the case of those wishing to enter the medical profession, the hardcore resistance was generations long. I remember my hubby’s response when we were considering going to a woman as our family doctor. I had to remind him that all during my pregnancies it was considered perfectly alright for me to be examined, rather intimately, by a man who wasn’t my husband. Why was it any more improper for a man to be examined by a woman?
I found the relationship between Rowan and Gayle to be a bit of challenge for me–I understood her as a hell-raiser and one having the guts to challenge the status quo, but I found her to be just a bit immature in her responses sometimes. Rowan was patient, giving, kind, caring, willing to run himself ragged to help just about anyone, including Gayle. He had put his reputation on the line to do as she asked in taking her on as an apprentice. Yet from time to time she attributed less than noble attitudes and actions to him, mostly because she was prone to “run” with half the story. Not the mindset of a mature person. That being said, I had the sense that throughout the course of the book she “grew up” in many ways, backed away from her impulse thinking, and became far more adept at thinking before she spoke.
While this is a stand alone novel, it is a continuation of the saga of the Jaded Gentlemen and their on-going quest to be finally free of the evil that has followed them from India. It is truly Rowan and Gayle’s story even though the other Gentlemen waft in and out of the story from time to time. It is a very good look at the “temper” of the times regarding women and medicine, and it is, as always, a well-researched historical romance that, while it is fiction, could easily be real life. For my money, those are the best kinds of historical novels!
I give this book a 4.25 out of 5