Review: Sawbones by Catherine Johnson

Posted January 29, 2014 by chooseyabooks in reviews / 1 Comment

sawbonesTitle: Sawbones
Author: Catherine Johnson
Publisher: Walker Books
Publication Date: 3rd October 2013
Series/Standalone: Standalone
Format: Paperback
Source: Review copy from publisher
Also by this author: Arctic Hero, Face Value, Brave New Girl, Stella, The Dying Game, Cuts Deep, A Nest of Vipers, Con Men

Goodreads DescriptionSixteen-year-old Ezra McAdam has much to be thankful for: trained up as an apprentice by a well-regarded London surgeon, Ezra’s knowledge of human anatomy and skill at the dissection table will secure him a trade for life. However, his world is turned on its head when a failed break-in at his master’s house sets off a strange and disturbing series of events that involves grave robbing, body switching … and murder. Meanwhile, sparky, persuasive young Loveday Finch, daughter of the late Mr Charles Finch, magician, has employed Ezra to investigate her father’s death, and there are marked similarities between his corpse and the others. The mystery takes Ezra and Loveday from the Operating Theatre at St Bart’s to the desolate wasteland of Coldbath Fields, from the streets of Clerkenwell to the dark, damp vaults of Newgate Prison, and finally to the shadowy and forbidding Ottoman Embassy, which seems to be the key to it all…

Review:  I love crime and thriller novels so was very intrigued when I saw Sawbones at the Walker Blogger Evening in November which was described as a YA Silent Witness in the 18th century.

It’s 1792 and the world is changing.  France is in the midst of revolution and science is advancing with surgeries almost as popular as the theatre. In the wake of knowledge of anatomy and surgical developments, body snatching is rife to accommodate demand. Ezra McAdam is the apprentice to a eminent surgeon and learning his trade. However everything changes when Loveday Finch arrives onto the scene, desperate to know what happened to her father and employing Ezra to help her find out the truth. Add in a failed break-in to his master’s house and Ezra’s whole life is turned upside down as he tries to solve the mystery.

What I loved about Sawbones was how Ezra was really bought to life beyond the page. I worried for him and rooted for him throughout the novel. Ezra is living in a difficult time; he’s mixed race and while he has been raised by McAdam as a free man, he was originally sold to him. Johnson brings to life the horrid injustice and inequality of this time through Ezra effectively. Johnson also highlights the inequality of the sexes to a degree with the addition of Loveday Finch. Both Ezra and Loveday are disregarded by many in their time and this is sadly realistic. For me both Ezra and Loveday’s subsequent journeys in the book to seek their own power were the highlight of Sawbones.

I thoroughly enjoyed Sawbones however I think that at times the two different plot strands sometimes overwrote each other and for me personally, I was more interested in the characters than some of the mystery. That said, the central mystery was well written and very different due to its link to the Ottoman empire.

Sawbones is a compelling historical YA with an intriguing mystery that I would definitely recommend. This is my first book by Catherine Johnson but I’m definitely going to keep an eye out for her writing now and read some of her previous books.

 I received a free copy from Walker Books for reviewing purposes at their bloggers’ evening. My review is honest and its tone and content unaffected by the means in which I received the book.

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