The Fair Fight by Anna Freeman

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The Fair Fight by Anna Freeman

Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Luke Marlowe
Reviewed by Luke Marlowe
Summary: On the cusp of the 19th Century, Ruth is born in 'The Convent', a brothel run by her Madame of a mother. When a regular client takes an interest in Ruth, deciding to turn her into a female prize fighter, we are swept up into a grimy, dirty world. Journeying from the bloody sawdust at the side of a boxing ring to grand mansions and high society, this is a stunning debut by poet Anna Freeman.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 437 Date: August 2014
Publisher: Orion Publishing
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9780297871958

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Set in the grimy streets of Bristol, we follow the journey of Ruth – born to a Madame in a brothel, and constantly outshone by her prettier sister Dora, Ruth learns to stand on two feet and to defend herself – something which is picked up on by a regular client of Dora’s, Mr Dryer. Plunged headfirst into the world of fighting, Ruth soon meets Grenville Dryer’s wife, Charlotte, a woman scarred by smallpox and trapped in a loveless relationship with her husband, and a toxic one with her brother.

Freeman tells the story from three viewpoints – Ruth, Charlotte Dryer, and George Bowden – a childhood friend of Mr Dryer’s. All three are captivating, and have strong distinctive voices. It's a mark of the writing that all three leap off the page, as flawed three dimensional characters that remain sympathetic throughout, despite doing things that are thoroughly unlikeable. All the characters are richly drawn – Grenville, Ruth, Charlotte, George, Perry (Charlotte’s alcoholic brother), Dora, even housekeepers and butlers have distinct personalities and are immediately familiar to the reader.

The dirty, bloody life of Ruth is richly described, and stands in stark contrast to the genteel life that Charlotte leads, although it soon becomes clear that both women are formidable and fighting to escape their places in society.

Whilst fighting is what drives the main plot along, it is by no means the focus – whilst we are given a fascinating glimpse into this world, it is the characters who make one keep turning the pages, and they stick in the mind long after the final page is turned – particularly for me, Charlotte Dryer is utterly captivating. The world which they inhabit is also wonderfully depicted, with rich contrast between manor and brothel, town house and hovel. The writing does not shy away from the realities of violence, and depictions of injuries and death can be horribly vivid and wonderfully macabre.

An award winning poet, Anna Freeman has written something wonderful for her debut novel, and whilst the first two thirds gripped me slightly more than the final third, this is a thrilling read, as I was so involved with the characters by then, I was loathe to put this down. Comparisons with Sarah Waters and with Michael Faber's The Crimson Petal and the White are very accurate indeed. This book is set in a dirty dangerous time, but one I was very happy to be sucked into for an afternoon. Ruth and Tom, Charlotte and George are all characters I should love to meet again, and I would encourage anyone to jump in and to meet them for yourself.

Many thanks to Orion sending this book in for review.

For another look at the grittier, realistic side of Austen-era England, Longbourn by Jo Baker is a great place to start

Buy The Fair Fight by Anna Freeman at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Fair Fight by Anna Freeman at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Fair Fight by Anna Freeman at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Fair Fight by Anna Freeman at Amazon.com.


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