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Amber's Thoughts

Reviews and updates from Amber Foxx, author of the Mae Martin Psychic Mystery Series

 

 

Outstanding Historical Novel

The Doctor's Daughter: Journey to Justice - Belle Blackburn

History buffs should love this book. It’s well-paced, historically accurate, colorful and interesting, and has only a few drawbacks. The 19th century South is not romanticized, but shown in its flawed complexity of culture and politics, through the eyes of Kate, an assertive young woman from the outskirts of Nashville, the doctor’s daughter of the title.

 

Because of the title I kept expecting some major plot event to emerge from the differences in medicine practiced by the folk healer, Kate’s mother, and the modern doctor, Brice Rockwell, but that never happened. Being the doctor’s daughter isn’t the key element in Kate’s story, although her relationship with her mother is. The book centers on the other half of the title, Kate’s journey to justice for her father’s death.

 

That journey takes Kate through challenges that make her grow up, including what I call an “anti-romance.” While this major subplot has a lot of the elements of a typical romance at the beginning, it quickly becomes more realistic, conflicted and difficult. Love is not idealized. The men in Kate’s life are fully developed characters, imperfect, not romantic heroes. The main plot is wrapped up well, but the “anti-romance” plot has an unknown trajectory, though a probable one. The book’s last lines feel more like the end of a chapter than the end of a book.

 

The medical history and herbal medicine research is flawless. When I read a book in which an author is covering my area of expertise, it’s a pleasure to find no mistakes. Every herb is used for the right thing, and the facts on medical training and practice for college educated doctors are accurate. The only downside to this is that it’s easy for an author to get carried away when she’s worked hard to learn so much. A few too many remedies are worked into conversations. While none of this was dull, the detail on Mrs. Seaver’s medicine in some dialog pushed the limits of what felt natural. The author over-uses her civil war research occasionally also, with a few side-tracks into issues not related to the plot, like the legal aspects of freeing a slave. Kate’s observations on the effects of the war on life in Nashville and the countryside are fascinating, though, so I didn’t mind the occasional digressions other than wondering if they were going to lead to new plot elements. The evacuations, the cancellations, the shortages, the slaves’ desire for freedom—all those did work well into the plot, as did some of the health and medical details.

 

The contrast between the lives of the wealthy and the common country people is well drawn. I enjoyed Kate’s earthiness. As a country girl and the daughter of a folk healer, she's seen a lot more of life than more refined young women, and this makes her competent and unconventional. She’s a compelling character, deeply flawed, but with admirable strengths as well. Kate's insights into the true nature of slavery come naturally and slowly, in a believable way. She develops compassion and has no racial prejudice, but she never gets past a pretty girl's prejudice against a homely one. Kate’s meanness about Carolina’s appearance never failed to appall me. Kate describes a good relationship at one point in which they become friends, like sisters, and yet later refers to Carolina as doltish and still mocks her looks behind her back. As I said, she’s flawed. It makes her real.

 

The prose gets a little too florid at times, though it’s usually clear and strong. The dialog often has a natural flow, but several scenes are too expository and don’t sound like speech, but like narration.

 

I’d give this book five stars on research and characters, four on plot, and three on writing style, and average it out to four. Well worth reading in spite of a few shortcomings.