The Invincible Miss Cust by Penny Haw (Fictionalized History)

Writing: 3.5/5 Plot: 4/5 Characters: 4.5/5

This is the fictionalized story of Miss Aleen Cust, a minor English aristocratic in the 1880s who desperately wanted to be a veterinary surgeon at a time when that (and many other things) were forbidden to women (particularly of her class). She did, in fact, become the first female vet in Britain, and the description of the process was well documented and engaging. The story features great characters who were either those who encouraged and helped her along the way as well as those who did everything in their power to stop her (this category included most of her family who were aghast at the thought of a woman wanting to work!). I loved the details about the work itself and the arguments made by those horrified at the thought of a woman vet. Many felt that a woman castrating bulls was immoral. Not that it would be difficult or off putting, but immoral! That gave me pause as I considered a definition of morality that was so focused on women not having any exposure to (and definitely no enjoyment of) sex.

The story was interesting enough on its own, and I was pleased that the author didn’t add a lot of melodrama where it wasn’t needed. It followed the facts pretty well — I looked them up on Wikipedia earlier than I should have — don’t do that as it spoils the story when you know what is coming! The author is very clear on the few places where she allowed her imagination to fill in information that was based on unverified rumor. I will say that I personally did not feel those were the best parts of the story. I’m not generally a fan of fictionalized history — where the story of real people is fictionalized (as opposed to historical fiction where fictional characters are placed into real historical contexts). It seems somehow unfair to assign thoughts and words and actions to a person who doesn’t get to correct or object, but I did very much enjoy this subject, this characterization, and this book.

Thank you to Sourcebooks Landmark and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on November 4th, 2022