I received this book free from First to Read Program in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Fair Fight: A Novel by Anna Freeman
Published by Riverhead on April 14th 2015
Source: First to Read Program
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The Crimson Petal and the White meets Fight Club: A page-turning novel set in the world of female pugilists and their patrons in late eighteenth-century England.
Moving from a filthy brothel to a fine manor house, from the world of street fighters to the world of champions, The Fair Fight is a vivid, propulsive historical novel announcing the arrival of a dynamic new talent.
Born in a brothel, Ruth doesn’t expect much for herself beyond abuse. While her sister’s beauty affords a certain degree of comfort, Ruth’s harsh looks set her on a path of drudgery. That is until she meets pugilist patron George Dryer and discovers her true calling—fighting bare knuckles in the prize rings of Bristol.
Manor-born Charlotte has a different cross to bear. Scarred by smallpox, stifled by her social and romantic options, and trapped in twisted power games with her wastrel brother, she is desperate for an escape.
After a disastrous, life-changing fight sidelines Ruth, the two women meet, and it alters the perspectives of both of them. When Charlotte presents Ruth with an extraordinary proposition, Ruth pushes dainty Charlotte to enter the ring herself and learn the power of her own strength.
A gripping, page-turning story about people struggling to transcend the circumstances into which they were born and fighting for their own places in society, The Fair Fight is a raucous, intoxicating tale of courage, reinvention, and fighting one’s way to the top.
“I’d like to say that my beginnings were humble, but they weren’t beginnings, because I never really left them but for a short while.”
The Fair Fight is told from three separate points of view that details the way of life for three very different individuals in diverse social classes in 18th century Bristol. We’re first given Ruth’s tale which starts this book off with a bang. Born in a brothel, Ruth never had any aspirations of ever rising her station until one day she’s seen fighting her sister and she’s suddenly being trained and thrust into a boxing ring. She becomes near unstoppable and becomes known everywhere as Miss Matchet from The Hatchet. Ruth was quite a compelling and gutsy woman with a gripping story told in lower-class slang and I would have gladly read this book told entirely from her point of view. In fact, I think I actually would have preferred it.
Next, we shift down a few gears and are taken inside the walls of an English boarding school where we are introduced to roommates and friends, George and Perry. Their tale was extremely long and sordid and went on for so long that I quickly lost interest after Ruth’s fascinating tale. We’re then given the story of Perry’s sister, Charlotte. Her story is one chock full of torment at the hands of her brother. After surviving the pox yet being left dreadfully scarred, her scars becomes the sole focus of Perry’s cruelty. It was a vast change from the Perry we see through the “rose-colored” eyes of George. The multiple storylines left things quite convoluted and excessively long and drawn out and none of them quite compared to the fascinating parts of the story centered around Ruth.
When a book is being called the “female Fight Club“, well, those are some mighty big boots to fill. Also, it’s a bit misleading since in all actuality very little of this story truly focused on female pugilists (I felt more focus actually ended up being given to the male fighters when it was all said and done). The majority of the story is comprised of nothing more than Victorian drama and of the way of life in the 18th century. It wasn’t that it was all terribly uninteresting because there were aspects that I did enjoy, the problem was that everything was all so long and drawn out. I understand the need to set the scene, explain everyone’s back-story, but it was so overdone that it threw off the pacing, caused me to get a bit lost in the detail and detracted from my ultimate enjoyment of the story itself. The writing was brilliant at times and I got definite Sarah Waters vibes but while there were parts of this that I thoroughly enjoyed, there were much more that I didn’t.