“Blood may even stain your soul”: A Review of ‘Anatomy: A Love Story’

Author Dana Schwartz welcomes readers into a plagued 19th century Scotland with her new gothic novel, “Anatomy: A Love Story,” out January 18.

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If you haven’t seen Dana Schwartz‘s tweets floating around your Twitter feed, then you must not use Twitter very often. She seems to have a hand in every field known to humankind. In the entertainment world, she is an established journalist and writer. In the history world, she has a podcast called Noble Blood that exposes the darker side of the monarchs we learned about in school. Regarding politics, she called out Jared Kushner in 2016 regarding his father-in-law’s anti-Semitic tweets while said father-in-law held the highest position of power in the American government. (We don’t mention that name here, but here is a link to Dana’s open letter to her ex-employer, and you can figure out for yourself who she was talking about.) And in the medical world, well, Dana just wrote the most horrifyingly beautiful book about human anatomy and 19th-century surgery.

*Disclaimer: I received a free advanced reader’s copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

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Schwartz isn’t new to the bookish world. Anatomy: A Love Story is actually her fourth book, but only her second fiction novel. And it’s actually through Twitter where I saw Schwartz’s announcement that Anatomy would be published by Wednesday Books. When I saw the story’s premise, I was both put off and intrigued.

A young lady who wants to be a surgeon more than she wants to marry.

A resurrection man trying to survive in a city where it’s too easy to die.

And the freshly dug up corpses that bring these two tender souls together.

A deliciously greusome gothic tale about the lengths one will go for their passion and the sinister twists of fate that lurk in the shadows.”

Anatomy: A Love Story

I won’t lie, anything that deals with the medical field makes me shudder. Blood? Surgery? Corpses? No, thank you. I just want to read a nice book. However, a short description of what hides behind Anatomy‘s beautiful cover was enough to make me reach out to Schwartz’s publisher and offer my review. A young woman making her way in a man’s world? Yes. A backdrop of old Edinburgh, Scotland? Yes, please. And what the heck does “resurrection man” mean? I needed to know.

Hazel Sinnett wants to become a surgeon, but all her mother wants is for her to marry. One of these outcomes is certainly easier for Hazel to achieve in 19th century Scotland. However, this reality doesn’t stop Hazel from achieving her dreams. Through reading and practicing on dead frogs, our heroine learns the basics of the medical field. And when she discovers that a class is set up for surgeons-to-be in Edinburgh, she can’t help but want in on the fun. The only problem? She’s a young woman, and only men become doctors.

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Such is an easy problem to fix because Hazel decides to dress up as a young man so that she can enroll in the class. But when her disguise is uncovered by one of the teachers, she has to resort to sneaking into the class with the help of her cheeky new friend, Jack Currer. But when Hazel finally meets the doctor who initially inspired her, the two decide to strike a deal. If Hazel can pass the Physician’s Exam, then the doctor—Dr. Beecham—must let women into his course. However, Hazel must do this without sitting said course.

Without bodies to study from, Hazel is doomed. However, Jack just so happens to be a “resurrection man.” What is a resurrection man you may ask? Someone who steals corpses and sells them off as study material to scientists and doctors. But just as Hazel receives her first body from Jack, the Roman Fever takes over Edinburgh. When Hazel successfully treats one of Jack’s friends, she decides to turn her estate into a hospital for the time being. That’s when she discovers that perhaps the virus taking over Edinburgh isn’t the only thing to be concerned about.

For a gothic story filled with gore, this book is pleasantly warm. The history of surgery (with Schwartz’s additional twists) humanizes the story, and the Sweeney Todd feeling is both haunting and magical. But the best part of this novel is the ending. Schwartz writes clues throughout the story in such a way that the novel’s plot is so clear once you arrive at its end. Readers can guarantee they will be stunned by Anatomy‘s ending, and the cliffhanger will certainly leave everyone wanting more.

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However, there are parts of this that are confusing. For Hazel to discover what is actually happening with the sick people of Edinburgh, a lot has to transpire. For example, so much time is spent on Hazel’s marriage plotline that it seems she may actually go through with the partnership. This leads to the introduction of characters who aren’t directly tied to the story’s ending. Hazel’s family feels irrelevant, and readers are introduced to so many side characters that it is difficult to keep up with who is who. Because of this, it can feel uncertain as to where the general plot is headed. However, as the plot falls into place, readers will burn through Anatomy to find out how Hazel and Jack are going to save Edinburgh.

This book also serves as a commentary on the current goings-on of the world. Pandemics are few and far between, but they’re not unheard of. And Schwartz’s suggestions that not only is our healthcare system ill-equipped to handle such sickness but also that it is set up against marginalized people specifically is such a badass move.

Because the book relies on a slow build-up to an exciting climax, Anatomy warrants a re-read. The ending of this story is just that good. I can imagine that readers of this book will create OTPs and fandoms for Hazel and Jack. To find out Schwartz’s plans for her characters, I cheekily left her an Instagram comment wondering if her book would be a part of a series. She responded by saying “there miiiight be a sequel in progress (insert wink emoji here).” While this book is a fantastic stand-alone novel, I would really love to see how the story continues for Hazel and Jack (and I can bet that future readers would like so, too). Maybe it could even become a film or short series because its setting is that visually stunning. Either way, we need more of our Lady and resurrection man.

You can pre-order your copy of Anatomy: A Love Story here or find it at your local bookstore on January 18, 2022.

If you missed my last book review, check out my article on Robyn Schneider’s The Other Merlin.

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