Early 1900 sees India Selwyn Jones graduate from medical school, on fire with determination to change the world. Concentrating her efforts on London's poorest neighborhood, India's dream is to build a free women's clinic to service a particular clientele, women's issues long neglected by an indifferent, male-dominated medical community. From a wealthy background, India has turned her back on privilege; save her betrothal to Freddie Lytton, an arrogant man with aspirations to the House of Parliament, India's ties to her old life are severed. The new doctor would be furious to learn that her disapproving mother has an agenda, promising Lytton a considerable dowry and family estate once he marries the errant India. Oblivious to such machinations, India throws herself into patient care, chafing at the archaic attitudes of the clinic where she works.
Lytton nurtures his own ambitions, counting on India's family fortune to finance his rise to power. Passing himself off as a crusader for the common good, Freddie assures his fiancé that they can achieve great things together and she foolishly believes him. Key to Lytton's success is the incarceration of Sid Malone, a local crime boss, daring in his criminal endeavors and far too clever to leave incriminating evidence. When India meets Malone on her rounds in Whitechappel, she is repulsed by the man's lifestyle and values, even though people revere Sid as a modern day Robin Hood. In India's black and white world, Malone is morally reprehensible, but their immediate antagonism bespeaks an attraction neither can admit. When Malone is injured, India saves his life; thereafter, the two enter a new phase of the relationship, India fighting the attraction and Sid disconcerted with criminal life, longing for a new beginning.
In a classic triangle, the do-gooder physician, the bad guy with a heart of gold and the dastardly villain, an ill-fated romance and desperate marriage is played out against a background of poverty and despair, London's hardscrabble citizens victims of a society that fails to provide the most basic needs. In her epic drama, Donnelly paints a vivid picture of entitlement vs. abject poverty, moving from London's crime-riddled streets to Africa and a remote enclave on the northern California coast. Unfortunately, the novel is devoid of nuance, the characters mired in stereotypes and death-defying adventures, one cliff-hanger after another. All perform in high dudgeon, the separated, broken-hearted lovers, the cruel and avaricious villain and a colorful cast of eccentrics and miscreants from petty gangsters to corrupt police and the class-conscious wealthy. The author serves up an abundance of angst and peril, promising- at the end of over 700 pages- a reward for years of travail and unhappiness. Luan Gaines.
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