Here's the first of my two reviews from the Historical Novels Review May 2008 issue.
The goal of HNR reviews: Reviews are geared toward our fellow readers. In 150-300 words, our incisive, insightful reviews provide an overview of the book’s plot and setting as well as critical commentary.
Tobsha Learner, Forge, 2008, $14.95/C$16.95, pb, 425pp, 978-0-7653-2010-0
SOUL is the story of Professor Julia Huntington, and that of her great-grandmother Lavinia Huntington. Julia, a renowned geneticist living in Los Angeles in 2002, is commissioned by the U.S. Department of Defense to research the genetically linked propensity to kill without remorse. She comes to realize that she is linked more closely to Lavinia, a spirited intellectual Irishwoman suffering under the unjust standards of Victorian society, more than anyone could have imagined.
The book started off rather jagged and confusing, but finally settled into a strong pace about one-third of the way in. The weaving together – and juxtaposition – of Julia and Lavinia's stories was engaging, and I found that Lavinia and her doomed husband James jumped off the page.
The writing, in places, was maddeningly uneven – strangely shifting point of view within chapters and lovely description; stilted dialog in the modern-day sections and unique and thoughtful metaphors in the Victorian London sections. There were distracting Britishisms in the mouths of American characters, and odd descriptions of modern life (a firefighter walking into a bar for a drink dressed in full turnout gear?). The bottom line is Learner seemed to be more comfortable with the Victorian characters and settings, which ultimately is good news for historical fiction fans.
Overall, however, it was an engaging book and I would recommend it for fans of murder mysteries, psychological thrillers, and those with an interest in the society and sociology of Victorian London.