Eighteen year old Evalina Stowe watched in horror as her customer, Dr. Dowdrick strangles Evalina's brother for dropping his suit at the tailor shop they work for in nineteenth century Philedelphia. Evalina stabs Dr. Dowdrick with scissors as a swarm of angry wasps descends upon him. After her brother's death, Evalina is on the run. She finds work scaring birds from a field, but finds it is easier to befriend the birds. When her boss confronts her, one of Evalina's birds chokes him and Evalina is imprisoned at Eastern State Penitentiary for murder. While imprisoned, Evalina practices controlling her emotions to call upon the animals that visit her cell. Soon she is able to give directions to mice, birds and bugs. Evalina also discovers that Dr. Dowdrick is still alive and is running cruel experiments on prisoners, including Evalina's cell neighbor. With the help of her animals friends and other inmates including a Welshman named Birdie, Evalina hatches a plan to use her gifts as well as Dr. Dowdrick's greed for his own demise while gaining her freedom back.
I was really pulled in by the premise of Witch of the Wild Beasts, a 19th century witch in America who is in Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary. Evalina's character is strong, smart and resourceful. While her powers were integral to the story, they weren't a magic cure all to her problems, Evalina still had to think on her own and use her own willpower. I was very interested in the setting of Eastern State Penitentiary and the medical advancements of the time, especially with women's health. The author uses rich historical detail and elements of the time period to create the setting of Eastern State Penitentiary. The descriptions of the prison's special architecture allowed me to easily envision the space that Evalina was in. I was amazed that Charles Dickens actually did visit the Penitentiary as well as medical advancements in sanitation, midwifery, and plastic surgery that were developed in this time period. The writing and plot moves very quickly, which didn't lead to a lot of character development other than Evalina herself, but did keep the pace moving very swiftly and kept my interest high. With this, the romance wasn't as developed, however this was not the focus of the story. Overall, Witch of the Wild Beasts is a historical fantasy with a strong female lead and touches of magic and romance.
This book was received for free in return for an honest review.