About This Book:
In this dark and twisty feminist historical mystery, a teenage girl starts a new life as a grave robber but quickly becomes entangled in a murderer's plans.
Soon after her best friend Kitty mysteriously dies, orphaned seventeen-year-old Molly Green is sent away to live with her "aunt." With no relations that she knows of, Molly assumes she has been sold as a maid for the price of an extra donation in the church orphanage's coffers. Such a thing is not unheard of. There are only so many options for an unmarried girl in 1850s Philadelphia. Only, when Molly arrives, she discovers her aunt is very much real, exceedingly wealthy, and with secrets of her own. Secrets and wealth she intends to share—for a price.
Molly's estranged aunt Ava, has built her empire by robbing graves and selling the corpses to medical students who need bodies to practice surgical procedures. And she wants Molly to help her procure the corpses. As Molly learns her aunt's trade in the dead of night and explores the mansion by day, she is both horrified and deeply intrigued by the anatomy lessons held at the old church on her aunt's property. Enigmatic Doctor LaValle's lessons are a heady mixture of knowledge and power and Molly has never wanted anything more than to join his male-only group of students. But the cost of inclusion is steep and with a murderer loose in the city, the pursuit of power and opportunity becomes a deadly dance.
*Review Contributed by Kim Baccellia, Staff Reviewer*
Seventeen-year-old Molly Green’s life in an orphanage takes a twist after her best friend Kitty’s tragic death. Molly expects to be thrown out when she confronts a nun over the death but finds a mysterious aunt has a place for her. This place is among the rich in town. But there’s a secret behind her aunt’s wealth-she is behind supplying corpses to doctors to experiment on. Hence the title The Corpse Queen. In order to stay with her aunt, Molly’s job is to help supply the bodies to a church where a doctor does experiments with medical students. Molly finds she has a gift and wants to be part of the exclusive male-only club. She also wants to bring justice to her dead friend by finding the elusive Knifeman who is responsible for a string of gruesome murders.
What worked: Chilling, haunting tale of a young orphan girl in the 1850s who ends up securing corpses to doctors and medical students and along the way fights to find the murderer who killed her best friend. What’s so chilling about this story is there actually were corpse suppliers and people that would sell their dead to medical establishments.
Grisly scenes of the bodies and the experiments are shown throughout this novel. What especially worked was the portrayal of Molly. She’s feisty, determined, but also sympathetic toward the plight of the poor, including women, that are treated as subhuman. There’s one scene where a pregnant girl is hauled onto a table as just part of a display. The inhumanity of the doctors is very telling of how women in poverty were treated during this time. Molly stops the brutality and tries to show some compassion. At this time, she learns she has a special gift and wants to become a surgeon when at that time only men were able to do this.
Her aunt is cold but does try to show some feelings toward Molly. There’s the frightening Tooth Fairy, who rips out the teeth of the dead. Also, the rich know what the aunt is doing but basically, look the other way.
Tom is one of the helpers that take Molly out during the night to find the bodies. Their relationship is one that slowly grows from one of respect to hints of something more. Mostly though it’s Molly who has to be true to herself and her wants, which include finding the truth behind a string of murders.
Haunting historical where a young orphan girl’s new lease of life has a darkness which involves supplying the dead to medical students in the 1850s. Add a horrific string of murders and a dark secret for an immensely engaging tale.
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