#BookReview — Witch of the Wild Beasts by Catherine Stine
Witch of the Wild Beasts
By Catherine Stine
When Evalina is imprisoned for witchcraft, will her supernatural bond with animals be her curse or salvation?
In 1854, Evalina Stowe witnesses the murder of her brother by Dr. Dowdrick, an enraged client at the tailor’s where they work. Desperate to stop him, she rouses a swarm of wasps that sting the doctor while she stabs him with scissors, and then flees. At a subsequent job when birds race to her defence, Evalina is declared a witch and sent to Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary.
While imprisoned, Evalina is horrified not only to learn that Dr. Dowdrick is still alive, but he’s experimenting on inmates. Determined to get inside his Eclectic Medical School, to expose his nefarious activities, she’s passionate about protecting fellow prisoners, especially Lewin, a child thief who knew her brother, and Birdy, a kind, resilient Welsh man serving time for a worker’s death while blasting granite for the railroad.
Evalina, her friends and her “wild beasts” work against time to unmask Dowdrick’s crimes when she participates with him in a symposium, showcasing Philadelphia’s premium doctors. If they fail, not only will the doctor’s evil deeds continue unchecked but Evalina and her crew will surely be hung.
“They were my heart. My soul. Though they uttered no English, they spoke my language. They never called me Evalina Stowe, my given name, or Eva, my nickname, but most importantly they never called me murderess.”
To murder a man was no small thing but to wrap your hands around a child's neck and squeeze until there was no more breath in his body, that was something different altogether. Evalina Stowe had done everything she could to free her young brother from Dr Horace Dowdrick's evil hold. She had summoned the wasps to sting his face, but still, Dowdrick refused to let go. In desperation, Evalina had stabbed the doctor with a pair of dressmaking scissors. But it was too late. Her brother was dead. Evalina did not know what to do — she had killed a respectable man. Who would believe that it was in defence of her brother? So, she did the only thing she could do — she fled. However, living as a fugitive was no easy life. It was only a matter of time before she was caught and sent to Cherry Hill Prison. But at least Dowdrick was dead. It was a small comfort. Kept in solitary confinement at Cherry Hill Prison, Evalina's only comfort was her small wild beasts who squeezed through cracks and crevices to comfort and console her. However, it was not long after her incarceration that Evalina discovered a terrible truth. The man she thought she had killed was not dead. He was here, looking for more victims to use as test subjects for his medical experiments. It was inevitable that Dowdrick would, at some point, call for Evalina. Evalina must gather her courage and her wild beasts if she is to have any chance of defeating him... From a gruesome murder to a clever plot that exposes a man for what he truly is, Witch of the Wild Beasts by Catherine Stine is the utterly enthralling story of one young woman's fight for justice. Told with an impressive narrative that captured my attention from the opening paragraph, Witch of the Wild Beasts has an awful lot to recommend it. Stine has penned a story that is both lush, lyrical and next to impossible to put down. I was captivated by this story. I loved every sentence, every word, every syllable. In all ways, it is a Historical Fantasy success. With a cast of highly appealing characters and a setting that is rich, vibrant and crystalline in the telling, this is the kind of book that gets readers of quality Historical Fantasy very excited about. I adored the characterisation of Evalina Stowe. Evalina suffers greatly in this book. With the murder of her brother, Evalina is all alone in the world — there is no one she can turn to for help. And, unfortunately, being able to communicate with animals is both a blessing and a curse. Although Evalina can bribe the animals and make friends with them, their actions are not controlled by her and many times she finds herself in trouble because of the animals' desperate desire to protect her. They feed on Evalina's emotions. When she is happy, they are calm. When she is fearful, they become protective. I thought Stine's depiction of Evalina was dazzling. This is a heroine whom a reader can really get behind. Evalina is an especially strong young woman who, despite all the suffering, does not become bitter and cynical. Her desire to see justice done is at the forefront of her mind, but she also cares deeply for the friends she makes in prison. She realises that many of the people incarcerated with her should not be in prison. They are good people despite what the authorities might say. Evalina becomes somewhat of a crusader, desperate to make a difference, and if possible, achieve the freedom that her friends deserve. Evalina's sense of right and wrong, her pureness of heart made for a compelling read. There is also a simmering romance throughout this book between Evalina and another inmate which was very sweet. Bertram "Birdy" Castell was a character that I simply adored. He is a very tender-hearted man who, like many inmates of Cherry Hill Prison, should not be in jail. Yet, with quiet dignity, he is resolved to his sentence, that was until he met Evalina. Although this story is told from Evalina's perspective, we come to know Birdy rather well. Birdy was a character that I enjoyed reading about. His gentle calmness and his tender ways made him a character that was very easy to like. The antagonist of this tale is Dr Horace Dowdrick. Dowdrick is a man who is corrupted by his desire for recognition and success within the medical profession, and he will do anything to receive the accolade that he thinks he deserves. He is also a ruthless man who is quick to anger. He murdered Evalina's young brother on a whim because the child innocently did something that upset him. He is renowned in the more impoverished community for his violence, and yet he is a respectable man who is trusted and free to go about his business. The social injustice of the time is cleverly weaved into the story, which I thought was very well done. Stine has given her readers a very dark and dangerous antagonist to pit against a young and refreshing heroine. If you enjoy wonderful escapism fiction, then check out Witch of the Wild Beasts by Catherine Stine. You won't be disappointed. I loved every minute of it. I Highly Recommend. Review by Mary Anne Yarde. The Coffee Pot Book Club.
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Witch of the Wild Beasts
Catherine Stine is a USA Today bestselling author of historical fantasy, sci-fi thrillers, paranormal romance and YA fiction. Her novels have earned Indie Notable awards and New York Public Library Best Books for Teens. Catherine's newest historical fantasy, Witch of the Wild Beasts, was a second prize winner in Valley Forge's 2019 RWA Sheila Contest. She loves spending time with her beagle, writing about supernatural creatures, gardening on her deck, and meeting readers at book events. Catherine suspects her love of dark fantasy came from her father reading Edgar Allen Poe to her when she was a child.