Set in 19th century New England, this is the story of Ren, a young boy who lives at St Anthony’s orphanage. Ren cannot remember his life before he came to St Anthony’s as a baby, he has no idea who or where his parents are, and he certainly cannot remember why he only has one hand. He is considered unlikely to ever be chosen for adoption, but one day a charismatic young man called Benjamin Nab calls at the orphanage claiming to be Ben’s older brother. Ren leaves with this man, but it soon becomes clear that Benjamin is a fraudster and a criminal.
The young boy soon finds himself involved with thieves, grave-robbers and murderers, and his hopes and dreams of ever finding a proper family seem to be fading fast. Will Ren manage to disentangle himself from his new and dangerous lifestyle? And will he ever uncover the truth about his parents?
I have divided thoughts on this book. There are plenty of positives – I loved the atmosphere – I did feel that the writing evoked the time and place where the action was happening. There were also a lot of fascinating characters within the story – it was hard to like some of them, but they certainly made an impact and for the most part were very well drawn and distinctive. The writing is also eloquent and descriptive.
However, I did find that there were a couple of coincidences which occurred in the narrative that just seemed too convenient and lacked credibility. Also, a few of the lesser characters seemed to be drawn from strong stereotypes, and at times there was a little too much going on – much of which seemed to serve no purpose in the storyline.
Overall however, this is an assured debut novel, and I would certainly be interested to read more by this author.