The Fair Fight by Anna Freeman

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Weidenfeld & Nicholson
2014

BLURB

For fans of Sarah Waters and THE CRIMSON PETAL AND THE WHITE, a vibrant romp through eighteenth-century Bristol from an astonishing new talent.

THE FAIR FIGHT is a pulsating historical novel set within the world of female pugilists and their patrons in late eighteenth-century Bristol.

It’s an unputdownable story which takes you from a filthy brothel to the finest houses in the town, from the world of street fighters to another of champions.

It is about fighting your way to the top – and not only with your fists.

Alive with the smells and sounds of the street, THE FAIR FIGHT is a major debut with incredibly wide appeal.

REVIEW

The blurb/description does not do this debut novel justice. The plot is much more than it appears; interweaving the lives of two very different women and the men around them, the unexpected threads pull them together and from adversity they weave a strong friendship.

Ruth Webber is the daughter of a madam, brought up in a whore house and trained as a boxer from a young age; Charlotte Sinclair, is an isolated pox survivor, a lady forced by her drunkard brother Perry, the owner of a large and prosperous estate, to marry his friend Granville Dryer, a merchant, because she is a rival for the affection and attention of his closet friend George Bowden.

It just so happens that Granville ‘owns’ Ruth, having ‘bought’ her from Ma, the old bawd who runs the brothel she was born in. He also owns Dora, Ruth’s sister, but has an entirely different use for her. When Ruth losses a fight at the St Steven’s Fair, a fight Granville had fixed in her favour, he losses interest, instead fixing his attention on Tom, Ruth’s devoted and proud husband. He becomes determined to train Tom and make him Champion of All England.

And at the same time gain acceptance and access to the first circles.

Wagers are placed, Tom goes off to London and Ruth starves. In the time that follows their husbands’ leave taking, the lady and the woman-boxer develop a close friendship, stronger than any of their trials to come.

I love this book! The characters are intriguing and develop over time, especially the ladies; the language and descriptions of late eighteenth century life bring the scenes to life. The plot is intelligent, though at times painful. I especially enjoyed the changing of narrator as the story moves through time; reading events from different perspectives with each character adding some bit of information that makes the whole picture clearer, was a joy. I love how the disperate individuals come to be a part of each other’s lives and I found the final two chapters especially touching as most of the characters find their place in the world. Even Perry and George, the pair who enable, to a certain extent, the meetings of the rest are reunited despite their cruel behaviour to each other; it was very sweet, I don’t think I could have borne it if George had ended his days in gaol or Perry had died a lonely drunk.

A fantasticly well realised eighteenth century adventure.

5/5

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