The Gifts by Liz Hyder | Book Review | #TheGifts #HistoricalFiction

Publisher: Manilla Press / Zaffre Books
Format: Ebook, Audio and Hardback (17 February 2022)
Pages: 496
Genre: Historical Fiction/Historical Fantasy
Source: Copy received for review

The luminous debut adult novel from the Waterstones Prize Winner, perfect for fans of The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock, The Essex Serpent and The Doll Factory.

In an age defined by men, it will take something extraordinary to show four women who they truly are . . .

October 1840. A young woman staggers alone through a forest in Shropshire as a huge pair of impossible wings rip themselves from her shoulders.

Meanwhile, when rumours of a ‘fallen angel’ cause a frenzy across London, a surgeon desperate for fame and fortune finds himself in the grips of a dangerous obsession, one that will place the women he seeks in the most terrible danger . . .

THE GIFTS is the astonishing debut adult novel from the lauded author of BEARMOUTH. A gripping and ambitious book told through five different perspectives and set against the luminous backdrop of nineteenth century London, it explores science, nature and religion, enlightenment, the role of women in society and the dark danger of ambition.


Oh my, what a joy of a book this is. From the prologue which is both intriguing and shocking to the beginning of the story which is set 8 days earlier, I was completely engrossed in the lives of Etta, Natalya, Annie and Mary. These four extraordinary women who take on tradition, injustice, arrogance and entitlement in their own way and will not be cowed.

This 19th century setting is one that combines both historical fiction with a touch of magical realism. The story is told from the perspective of these four women, a botanist, an artist, a storyteller and a would be journalist and also Edward Meake, a London surgeon whose aspirations for greater success to better that of his friend and rival, charismatic surgeon Samuel Covell, are overtaken by obsession, greed and ambition with his conviction that he alone has been chosen by a higher authority.

Without going into any plot detail as this is definitely one you need to discover yourself, combining the beauty of nature and the greed of man, The Gifts shines a light on the way of life in Victorian Britain, the social and legal standing of women and how unjustly they were viewed by society in general just because of their gender or marital status – the lack of employment opportunities if you were a woman was one thing but a married woman not being able own anything but having her inheritance belong to her husband enraged me. Our female protagonists had their own talents and were every bit as capable as a man however their work was too frequently dismissed as just a hobby.

The short chapters make this such a ‘just one more chapter’ book and although its a hefty page count, I never felt that the book was overlong, or too slow in pace. As for the writing, it is so very ‘readable’ there is no unnecessary description or padding. Written from a third person POV, I felt the characters were superbly drawn – Etta was just wonderful and I loved Natalya’s stories. Richard and Mary were a brilliant pairing and even the minor supporting characters had their own part to play. There are some parts that are achingly sad and poignant together with moments of humour.

I did initially wonder how all these characters would connect together. When they were first introduced in quick succession with very different personalities and backgrounds my concern that I would find the constant change of character confusing became irrelevant as it didn’t take long to become totally invested in each of their stories.

Unsettling, captivating and beautifully written, with vividly descriptive landscape from Orkney to London, The Gifts is an enthralling tale of ambition and the lines of knowledge for science sake and obsession being crossed, of women finding an inner strength, being resourceful and tenacious and not willing to conform. I loved it, and although my proof copy just had placeholder text, I’m sure that the finished copy with its chapter illustrations will be a thing of beauty indeed.

If you enjoyed Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield (another of my favourites in recent years) then I would think that The Gifts would greatly appeal.

My thanks to Tracy Fenton of Compulsive Readers for the tour invite and to the publisher for the proof copy.


Liz Hyder has been making up stories for as long she can remember. She has a BA in drama from the University of Bristol and, in early 2018, won the Bridge Award/Moniack Mhor Emerging Writer Award. Bearmouth, her debut young adult novel, won a Waterstones Children’s Book Prize, the Branford Boase Award and was chosen as the Children’s Book of the Year by The Times. Originally from London, she now lives in South Shropshire. The Gifts is her debut adult novel.



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