Monday 24 October 2016

Clare Reviews: The Unseeing by Anna Mazzola

The UnseeingTitle: The Unseeing
Author: Anna Mazzola
Source: Received from publisher for honest review
Publisher: Tinder Press
Pages: 368 pages
Rating: 4/5
Blurb: Set in London in 1837, Anna Mazzola's THE UNSEEING is the story of Sarah Gale, a seamstress and mother, sentenced to hang for her role in the murder of Hannah Brown on the eve of her wedding.
After Sarah petitions for mercy, Edmund Fleetwood is appointed to investigate and consider whether justice has been done. Idealistic, but struggling with his own demons, Edmund is determined to seek out the truth. Yet Sarah refuses to help him, neither lying nor adding anything to the evidence gathered in court. Edmund knows she's hiding something, but needs to discover just why she's maintaining her silence. For how can it be that someone would willingly go to their own death?

I got almost exactly what I wanted from The Unseeing. I am forever looking for books with main characters whose motivations and indeed actions aren't always clear to me. I wanted to be kept guessing and I wanted characters I could love who are a little morally dubious. 

The Unseeing is based on a true murder. To this day most people cannot agree on whether Sarah Gale was guilty or innocent and this book plays on that. Anna Mazzola created Edmund Fleetwood, a barrister called upon to investigate Sarah's petition to look into her conviction and, hopefully, prevent her upcoming hanging. Sarah has been accused of assisting in the murder of her rival in love. She, of course, denies everything. This, in a way, seemed a bit like an historical version of Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas.

Sarah was an amazing character. From the moment she appeared I rooted for her, even in those moments where I seriously doubted her innocence. She is obviously hiding something for much of the book and it's unclear what her motivations are and just how much of her behaviour and story is a lie. This didn't make me care for her any less but it definitely added an extra element to the mystery of the novel. The other characters were also compelling although I did not love them quite as much. Edmund is a noble person but I found myself getting frustrated with much of his behaviour. I did, however, admire him for sticking to his convictions throughout the novel. 

I loved that I never knew what was going to happen next, or at times what happened before. Every chapter was a discovery which made it very hard to put this book down for inconveniences like food. And even when I had, reluctantly, paused in reading - it was never far from my mind. I was constantly analysing and thinking about what I had heard and what I believed and just how guilty was she!? So by the end of the book I was both excited to see things resolved and reluctant to relinquish such an interesting mystery. 

Historical details are a real strength of The Unseeing. The world of the prisons and the look at the justice system of the 1800's was very interesting to me. And outside of the details there was also a brilliant atmosphere both in the prison, where fear and despair ruled, and outside where Edmund was trying to balance his life and career with the revelations of studying Sarah's case. It was also interesting to see how the two entwined. Watching the puzzle pieces connect - even when you thought all was revealed there was still more to come and poor Edmund got thrown into it.

This was a brilliantly written and expertly plotted novel and I know that I will continue to think of these characters and to wonder how things went for them afterwards. It also intrigues me that this is just an imagining of the truth, whilst the bare facts of Sarah Gale's life are available it is impossible to know what the real truth was - although this certainly felt very real to me whilst reading. If you like mysteries or historical novels - or even just really morally dubious characters like I do then I definitely recommend this book.

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