Tristan Hart is a wealthy and fiercely intelligent twenty-year-old who has been chosen to study medicine in London. Having been left to his own devices while growing up in the country, Tristan can’t wait to experience London and finally be challenged by one of the best minds in medicine. He won’t be completely left alone, though. Tristan has already experienced at least one violent episode that left his family fearing for his sanity. In London, he’ll be closely watched, lest he experience another “nervous” outburst. But Tristan harbors dark secrets about his personality that go much further than his mental stability. He’s obsessed with pain, especially inducing it. Studying medicine allows him to channel his interests productively, allowing him to cause pain (though surgery, etc.) in order to fix medical conditions. The problem is that as pressure on him increases, he has a harder time telling fantasy from reality, especially when the woman he loves is involved.
I’ll admit I was a little apprehensive going into this book. The premise sounded interesting, but there was a catch (for me): it’s written in the style of 18th century English. For example, this is the first sentence of the book:
One Morning in the Autumn of seventeen forty-one, when I was not yet eleven Yeares of Age, still round in Figure and innocent in Mind, Nathaniel Ravenscroft took me a-walking by the River.
That’s not a problem for a lot of people, but uh…I’m the kind of person who took Shakespeare in Film in undergrad in order to fulfill her Shakespeare literature requirement. Anything to get out of, like,actually reading old school English. (Yes. I was that student.) But here we are, many years later. I can take old school English (but still no Shakespeare).
It took me a couple of chapters to fall into the rhythm of the book, but once I did, I was addicted. The book is dark and sometimes gory; it’s hard to tell when Tristan is sane and when he’s lost his grip on reality; he’s an unreliable narrator that will keep you guessing. The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones refers to a childhood tale meant to scare children, and Tristan fancies himself has Bloody Bones, especially when he’s relishing in his sadist tendencies. Since he has training in medicine and surgery, Tristan indeed has the knowledge and skill to make “bloody bones” a reality. Through his madness, he’s also challenged to reevaluate everything he once held as true:
Virtue and Vice, Good and Evil, Reason and Madness, Life and Death. We are taught, those of us who go, as damnable Society tells us we must, to Church, to School, to marriage Bed and waiting Grave, to think these things Opposites.
The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones is not a book for the faint of heart, but if you like creepy, dark historical fiction, chances are you’ll really enjoy this book. Wolf deftly juggles questions of philosophy, medicine, science, and religion while maintaining a very imaginative plot. It’s an impressive debut.
The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones was published on March 26, 2013 by Penguin Books. This book is on tour right now, so check out what other bloggers are saying about it.
Penguin Books was kind enough to provide one copy of The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones for a giveaway! To enter, fill out the form below by April 18, 2013 at 11:59 p.m. CT (US & Canada only). Good luck!