‘Anne can’t move a muscle, can’t open her eyes, can’t scream. She lies immobile in the darkness, unsure if she’d dead, terrified she’s buried alive, haunted by her final memory—of being hanged. A maidservant falsely accused of infanticide in 1650 England and sent to the scaffold, Anne Green is trapped with her racing thoughts, her burning need to revisit the events—and the man—that led her to the gallows.
Meanwhile, a shy 18-year-old medical student attends his first dissection and notices something strange as the doctors prepare their tools . . . Did her eyelids just flutter? Could this corpse be alive?’
Mary Hooper is an author I should love. Her stories always sound like the perfect combination: a historical setting, romance, and a strong female protagonist. This one in particular caught my interest because it is about a girl who is hanged, but somehow survives and it is based on a true story! I’m always so excited to read a novel by Mary Hooper, but so far they have never quite delivered for me, and I don’t think it is due to Hooper’s skills as a writer.
As a fast reader, these feel more like short stories, we just don’t get enough time to really delve into the time period or the story – not as much as I would like anyway. The characters never feel fully fleshed out either. I think that’s where Hooper’s work personally falls down for me, they are marketed towards a younger audience and as an older reader, there just isn’t enough there to sink my teeth into. It’s such a shame because Mary Hooper’s books always sound so intriguing unique among a lot of YA out there. Most historical YA seem to focus on a purely romantic plot line – Mary Hooper really strives to explore the time period and coinciding historical events, something I’d personally love to see a lot more of.
A lot of the time I felt the story dragged – it took a long time for Anne to come round after being hanged and while we gained insight into how Anne came to be convicted, I felt too much time was spent focusing on the many medical students arriving one by one and waiting for the dissection of Anne’s (not so) dead corpse. Much more time was also spent waiting for them to decide whether the poor girl was dead or not. We also focused in on one medical student in particular – Robert, switching between his story and Anne’s, so much so I was surprised when he all but faded from the book and I had to wonder why so much time had been spent on his character.
By the time Anne has come fully back from the dead, there are only a few chapters left, and I cannot help but feel like all I’ve read so far is a more detailed version of the blurb. How Anne came to be standing on the gallows is an interesting tale, but I wanted more than just brief flashes. I wanted to know how Anne felt after her horrific experiences. Would she be dragged back to the gallows? What about her enemy in Sir Thomas Reade? There was no tension and it all fell a little flat to me. The ending was quite odd, and felt detached from the rest of the story (or maybe I was just detached from the story), it sort of… petered out. I just couldn’t connect to Anne which ultimately made the story unsatisfying.
Despite my disappointment in this, I still feel that Mary Hooper is a talented writer and her stories are great for young readers. She really knows her history and touches on so many important and interesting subjects, from women’s rights, to servant’s lives and class distinction, the flawed and biased justice system, the medical profession at the time, the atmosphere and realities of prison and public hangings, to the harsh conditions the poor suffered during that period. All of which, as an older reader I would have liked to have delved further into, but I think here provided great starting points for younger readers. It is a well-written book and one to be enjoyed but sadly not for me. I personally, just wanted more.
Recommended Reading Age: 11+