cover image The Gifts

The Gifts

Liz Hyder. Sourcebooks Landmark, $27.99 (448p) ISBN 978-1-72827-170-5

Hyder’s remarkable adult debut (after the YA novel Bearmouth) involves the discovery of winged women in 1840 England. London surgeon Edward Meake has invested heavily in his medical practice, but hasn’t achieved the fame or wealth he thinks he deserves. When a boatman pulls a winged female corpse from the Thames, Edward, believing the woman is proof that angels exist, pays the man for the body, which he spirits into his basement lab. Then he runs across two more women with wings, both of them very much alive. Driven by divine mission and professional ambition, he imprisons them and plans to make his name with a lecture and a public reveal of his specimens. Meanwhile, the women, an amateur botanist and a gifted Scottish storyteller, discuss their metamorphoses and ideas for possible escape; Edward’s wife grows alarmed by Edward’s increasing paranoia and secrecy, and aspiring writer Mary Ward catches rumors about the “Angel of the Thames” and pursues the story to a dramatic end. Hyder skillfully juggles the many threads, never slowing the momentum of her propulsive plot, and by blending realistic and fantastic elements, she perfectly captures the era’s uneasy attempts to marry faith and science. This memorable outing has special appeal for fans of fantasy-inflected historicals such as Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent. (Apr.)