Publishing Date: March 6
Genre: historical fiction, mystery
Jean Zimmerman’s new novel tells of the dramatic events that transpire when an alluring, blazingly smart eighteen-year-old girl named Bronwyn, reputedly raised by wolves in the wilds of Nevada, is adopted in 1875 by the Delegates, an outlandishly wealthy Manhattan couple, and taken back East to be civilized and introduced into high society.
Bronwyn hits the highly mannered world of Edith Wharton-era Manhattan like a bomb. A series of suitors, both young and old, find her irresistible, but the willful girl’s illicit lovers begin to turn up murdered.
Zimmerman’s tale is narrated by the Delegate’s son, a Harvard anatomy student. The tormented, self-dramatizing Hugo Delegate speaks from a prison cell where he is prepared to take the fall for his beloved Savage Girl. This narrative—a love story and a mystery with a powerful sense of fable—is his confession.
Hugo Delegate knows he’s in trouble. Whether or not it was Savage Girl — Bronwyn — who committed the murders or he, Hugo’s determined to free her and take the blame instead. He tells their story from the very beginning, in a windy, dusty city in Nevada where his wealthy family found and collected this feral young woman and brought her to New York City to be educated, trained, and prepared for her season. But somewhere within his story, Hugo blurs Bronwyn’s character, and begins to wonder if his love for her blinds him from her true nature, or if something — someone — more sinister is at work.
While many historical novels stick to the historical facts of the day — politics, education, fashion, transportation, social expectations, belief systems, etc — Zimmerman embodies the language of the day in her story. From skeptical Harvard medical man to a drunkard wailing over his love, lust, and confusion, Zimmerman’s Hugo is a character that comes alive through the rich diction. I felt like I was on the train with his family, traveling across the country and entering high society and working with this “raised by wolves” young woman. Bronwyn is quite similar too — her growth is fascinating, her fierce independence and loyalty and brave nature colliding together to create this beautiful, believable character from the wilds. Feral children are not simply stories; they were real.
When I first received this ARC, I assumed it would be like reading Catherine from Wuthering Heights plucked and dropped into Edith Wharton’s high society — her passions and wild-like manner considered animalistic and foreign. It’s nothing like that, and I’m glad. The mystery of the murders propelled the already intriguing plot (the character growth is enough to keep you reading), and it’s not until the exact last page that the truth is revealed. Zimmerman will keep you guessing, tossing around Hugo, Brownyn, and many other suspects back and forth. Who should you believe? The unreliable narrator? The wild woman?
Oh, it’s just so wonderfully written. Transported in time! A time that many seem to skip across when discussing history, that age between the Civil War and the suffragettes — beautifully represented in this great book.
Thank you, Viking and Goodreads, for providing this book for review!