The First Vet: A story of love and corruption inspired by real events
Love, horses and history - a story inspired by the writing of one of England's first ever vets, Bracy Clark. It's 1794 and the newly opened veterinary college is appealing to the government for funds to stave off closure. Clark, a gifted student, has sacrificed a lot to be there and fears it's being bled by the charming surgeon in charge. Edward Coleman knows very little about horses and has shortened the training course, claiming he can produce a vet in three months. But when Clark confronts him in his home he unexpectedly meets a woman. A woman who could hinder Coleman's career. A woman he desperately needs to help. [From Goodreads]
I saw this book mentioned on Twitter, liked the sound of it from the review I read, and bought it.
There are three main characters: Bracy Clark, one of the first graduates of the Veterinary College Of London; Edward Coleman, the head of the college; and Christina, Edward Coleman’s “crippled” sister. The book opens with Bracy – a Quaker, and an honourable and honest man who wants only to work for the good of the horse – accusing Edward Coleman of corruption, not realising in his fervour that Edward’s newly arrived sister Christina is present at the meeting. This sets the scene for the rest of the book – with conflict between the two men in their different agendas, and a love affair between Bracy and Christina, which causes more conflict.
Both Bracy and Edward were real people, doing the jobs written about in the story. Christina is fictitious. For me this doesn’t work. The book is very well researched as far as I can tell, and I really enjoyed reading about the college, the personalities, eighteenth-century London, and Bracy’s controversial (at the time) research, findings and treatments (I make it sound like a dry text book – it isn’t at all) – and I could accept some of the made-up padding to make these facts into a story (the story I wanted to read). If the story had been based on similar but fictitious characters (inspired by them, as the subtitle says), then I could have accepted Christina; but as far as we know Edward didn’t have a sister and if Bracy ever had a lover, it wasn’t this woman. Knowing this, I then wondered how much of the rest of the story was true, and I had to do some research of my own to find out. I might have wanted to do some research because the story intrigued me, but I didn’t want to have to do the research to know whether I was reading fact or fiction.
As a love story (fact/fiction aside), it works quite nicely, with Bracy seeing Christina as the woman she is rather than the “cripple” that everyone else, including her brother, sees. As social commentary, it was interesting to read how it was presumed that no man would ever want to marry such a woman as she was an embarrassment (she walked with a limp, that was all, but in those days of a woman belonging to a man, she had to be “perfect” and not an encumbrance).
Bracy and Edward are written very well. I didn’t warm to the way Christina was written – in some scenes she is fiery, independent or wanton, and in others she is meek, accepting of her rather poor lot, and unquestioning of her brother’s control, even excusing him for locking her in her room. I can see that she could be conflicted – wanting to follow her head and heart, but being beholden to the man on whom she relied for a roof over her head – but I found the two extremes to be, well, too extreme. Some of Christina’s dialogue is unrealistic, and I enjoyed much more the scenes where she isn’t present.
The descriptions of London and its villages are quite vivid. I could picture the landscape of the time, and found it quite fascinating. But I didn’t get a feel for the period from the language. One notable example is the word “vet”, which a couple of dictionaries tell me was not used as the shortened version of veterinary surgeon until the middle of the nineteenth century. I think “ass” would be more likely to have been used instead of “donkey”, and there were several other words that seemed too modern causing me to wonder regularly whether I was in the eighteenth century or being told about the eighteenth century.
So, I have slightly mixed feelings. The “real” historical bits I really enjoyed; the fictional bits not so much. The writing is good – Linda Chamberlain is definitely “a writer” – but it didn’t give me a sense of the period. The romantic element would have worked in a separate story, but not (for me) as part of this largely factual one. The male characters were well written and interesting; the female character was too inconsistent. I very much enjoyed the scenes featuring horses and really enjoyed reading about Bracy setting up his practice (Linda’s writing here was pitched perfectly). Although the horse features largely, naturally enough, throughout the book, I don’t think you have to be a horse-lover to enjoy reading it.
I appreciate the research that has gone into the telling of this story, and I am very pleased (as a bare-foot horse-owner myself) to learn about Bracy Clark. I will definitely read the next novel by Linda. And if you read other reviews, you will see that I am alone in my quibbles.
Editorial Input & Design
This is purely subjective, of course, and other reviewers prove me wrong, but I would have suggested writing a straightforward historical story about Bracy Clark and Edward Coleman or an entirely fictional historical romance inspired by these people but the main characters not being them. It is fairly well copy-edited and proofread, but there are some spelling errors (“practicing”, and “loathe” instead of “loath”, for example).
Cover: I love the picture, but the typography needs a little attention. I would suggest rewriting the blurb to reflect more Bracy’s passion, identify the location and give Christina’s name. I bought the book on the basis of Bodicia’s lovely review, but I’m not sure I would have been tempted in a book shop by the blurb alone (I had to read it several times to make sense of it).
Internal design: I read this on a Kindle and had no problems, but there are no links from the contents page to different parts of the book.
Book Clubs & Reviews
I think this would make an excellent book club choice. There is plenty to discuss: the role of the horse, disability, women’s lack of independence in the eighteenth century, science, veterinary science as a profession, London in the eighteenth century, religion, corruption.
What others are saying: Amazon UK readers give it 5 stars (27 reviewers); Amazon US readers give it 5 stars (4 reviewers); Goodreads readers give it 5 stars (2 ratings, both also appear on Amazon).
Buy & Author
Amazon (Kindle £2.24/$3.35; paperback £7.73/$9.90)
Follow the author:
Website nakedhorse.wordpress.com (more for horse lovers than readers, but there is a link to a free download of the first chapter of the book)
Links of interest:
Vanessa Wester Interview with the author
Jera’s Jamboree Interview with the author
Modernbrickabrack Blog Interview with the author