The Wages of Sin by Kaite Welsh
Series: Sarah Gilchrist #1
Publisher: Blackstone Audiobooks
Publication Date: August 8, 2017
Format: Audiobook, eBook
Source: Library, Audible Plus
Cliffhanger: View Spoiler » Mystery wrapped up. Continuing story-arc for MC « Hide Spoiler
Content Warning: View Spoiler » Rape, Forced Hysterectomy, Death, Murder, Abortion, Oppression of Women, Non consensual torture, abuse and confinement, Trauma, Basically this story is Sad and Depressing af « Hide Spoiler
Genres: Historical Fiction, Mystery
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Reading Challenges: Holly's 2021 Goodreads Challenge, Holly's 2021 Historical Challenge, Holly's 2021 New to Me Challenge
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Sarah Gilchrist has fled London and a troubled past to join the University of Edinburgh's medical school in 1892, the first year it admits women. She is determined to become a doctor despite the misgivings of her family and society, but Sarah quickly finds plenty of barriers at school itself: professors who refuse to teach their new pupils, male students determined to force out their female counterparts, and perhaps worst of all her female peers who will do anything to avoid being associated with a fallen woman.
Desperate for a proper education, Sarah turns to one of the city's ramshackle charitable hospitals for additional training. The St. Giles Infirmary for Women ministers to the downtrodden and drunk, the thieves and whores with nowhere else to go. In this environment, alongside a group of smart and tough teachers, Sarah gets quite an education. But when Lucy, one of Sarah's patients, turns up in the university dissecting room as a battered corpse, Sarah finds herself drawn into a murky underworld of bribery, brothels, and body snatchers.
Painfully aware of just how little separates her own life from that of her former patients, Sarah is determined to find out what happened to Lucy and bring those responsible for her death to justice. But as she searches for answers in Edinburgh's dank alleyways, bawdy houses, and fight clubs, Sarah comes closer and closer to uncovering one of Edinburgh's most lucrative trades, and in doing so, puts her own life at risk.
An irresistible read with a fantastic heroine, a beautifully drawn setting, and fascinating insights into what it was like to study medicine as a woman at that time, The Wages of Sin is a stunning debut that heralds a striking new voice in historical fiction.
I chose this audiobook because the narrator, Mary Jane Wells, is lovely. I was browsing the audiobooks she’s narrated on Audio Plus and came across this one. I thought the blurb sounded interesting, and I’ve been in the mood for gothic mysteries lately. This novel is set in the Victorian era.
Sarah Gilchrist was sexually assaulted by a peer, and therefore “compromised”. As a result, she’s been sent to Edinburgh to live with her aunt and uncle while she attends medical school. She, and a handful of other girls, are the first female students studying to become doctors. Their plight is difficult, but Sarah loves medicine and truly wishes to help those in need. She volunteers her time at a low-end clinic for prostitutes, which is where she meets Lucy. Lucy, a young proustite, is pregnant and very upset about it, but Sarah sees a lot of herself in Lucy and can’t stop thinking about her. This is why she’s shocked and upset when Lucy’s body turns up as a dissection specimen a few days later. They claim Lucy committed suicide, but things don’t add up and Sarah begins to investigate. Her main suspect is none other than one of her professors, but as she gets deeper into her investigation, the more she realizes she may be in danger as well.
I enjoyed the narration, and the story was told well, but the main character, Sarah, made a lot of questionable decisions. She was forced to spend time in a Sanatorium after her attack because she kept blaming her attacker. Plus, the novel was extremely dark and depressing. Just when I thought things couldn’t be any more bleak, we’d be hit with another sad, sorry fact about the fate of women and their lack of rights in the 1890s.
I appreciated the strength of character it took for Sarah to stay on her current path, despite (or perhaps in spite of) the misfortunes she suffered in the past. But her blithely following said path without a thought to her safety or the consequences of her actions was frustrating. I wasn’t surprised by any of the revelations, but I did enjoy Sarah’s surprise, so I guess there’s that.
Though I enjoyed parts of this, I don’t believe I’ll continue with the series. Sarah didn’t endear herself enough for me to want to read more books from her point of view.
3.25-3.5 out of 5