genre: historical fiction
In 18th century Bristol, Ruth was born in the Convent. Fantastic misnomer, the Convent - being as its a brothel and her mother's the mistress of the house. Scrappy and streetwise, by the time she's 10, Ruthie's been scouted as a fighter - a lady pugilist. With the help of her sponsor, the stiff and borderline-heartless Mr. Dryer, she grows up standing at the scratch and lets her "fives" do the talking. A rough life, yes, but she loves the heart and the sweat of it and in a world where a sweet wager can make or break your fortune, Ruth is willing to play the game or die in the trying.
There really are three main characters in this tale, but Ruth is the one we know the longest. Of the other two, I like Charlotte the best - a Lady born to privilege but with no freedom. I liked her character arc the best, as she struggled to figure out what she even wanted and then if she was brave enough to try and get it. George, our final main character, mostly drove me crazy with his ridiculous decisions and selfish nature. I liked how their stories wove into Ruthie's and especially the interplay, such as it is, between the ladies themselves. Ruth has a WICKED strong accent and her language is full of words that I just have to guess from the context - but I loved that. It made her so rounded as a person and I am SO GLAD I did the audio for this one. All three narrators were phenomenal (Steve West! Fiona Hardingham!) and really brought the story to life.
While I really enjoyed this story and got very invested in Ruth and Charlotte, I will say that it's a pretty dark and depressing story a lot of the time. The George storyline is more coarse and crude than the other two and, obviously, there is a lot of brothel times and while it's never particularly graphic at all, there is no mincing around the fact that prostitution is a significant part of the story. I liked learning about the down and gritty life among the Bristol poor, the outdoor boxing arenas where women or men would fight for a pittance, for a chance to show their skill and gain whatever coin they could. Pugilism was a complete non-entity to me before this, I just had never had a single thought about it before at all and so, while painful, I appreciated immersing myself in that place and time.
I also liked how it ended. Actually, I liked the ending a lot. I found myself smiling as things came together and while not HAPPY and PERFECT, I felt like things had come full circle enough for me to be okay saying goodbye to Ruthie and Charlotte.