Official Synopsis from Goodreads: A vivid historical thriller about a young woman whose quest to free her sister from an infamous insane asylum risks her sanity, her safety and her life.
Charlotte Smith’s future is planned to the last detail, and so was her sister’s – until Phoebe became a disruption. When their parents commit Phoebe to a notorious asylum, Charlotte knows there’s more to the story than madness. Shedding her identity to become an anonymous inmate, “Woman Ninety-Nine,” Charlotte uncovers dangerous secrets. Insanity isn’t the only reason her fellow inmates were put away – and those in power will do anything to keep the truth, or Charlotte, from getting out.
Genre: Historical Fiction, Historical Thriller
Setting: 1888 San Francisco and Napa Valley
***I received an eARC copy of Woman 99 from the publisher, Sourcebooks Landmark, via NetGalley***
*** this post contains affiliate links ***
Review: Started out slow, but the ending was solid! Woman 99 by Greer Macallister was one of those titles that I went back and forth with. The beginning started out a bit choppy, with a lack of flow to the writing, but about halfway through I started becoming more interested and involved with the characters and the ending really pulled it all together!
I’ve always been fascinated by historical fiction or historical mysteries that are set in or about an insane asylum. There are many heartbreaking tales of women who were committed because they crossed a powerful man, they acted in a way that was unorthodox, or for many other reasons. I’m fascinated by these stories, and so when I read the synopsis of Woman 99 I knew it was a book for me! And I did enjoy it, it just took awhile for me to get into the read and feel connected to it.
Told in first person, our main character is Charlotte, a twenty year old woman in San Francisco. Her older sister, Phoebe, is committed to Goldengrove, a “Progressive Home for the Curable Insane”, in Napa Valley. Charlotte, angered by her parents’ decision to commit Phoebe, runs away from home and succeeds in becoming an inmate herself in the same asylum as Phoebe, with the goal of rescuing her sister.
Charlotte started out the book as incredibly naïve, and this was one of the reasons I struggled to connect early on. The premise really didn’t make a whole lot of sense, and felt a bit too “easy”. Charlotte is immediately committed to Goldengrove, and so this led me to a lot of questions. Was it really that easy to be committed? Were there no other asylums in the area? Charlotte believes that she’ll go into Goldengrove, and get Phoebe out quickly. At one point Charlotte mentions that she will “invoke my father’s name” to get Phoebe out, and all I kept thinking was, didn’t the father send her there to begin with? So, how will invoking his name get her out? Her lack of thinking things through was really irritating, but then as the book went along, and Charlotte learned more and became more worldwise, it got more interesting.
Another issue I had was with how convenient many things were. As I said above, Charlotte immediately gets sent to Gardengrove. There was no struggle for her to get there, no worry that she’d be sent somewhere else. While in Goldengrove, she comes across a map easily, and is able to don nurse’s garb at will, and even manages to make friends with the superintendent, who happens to be a wordy drunk. There are also some continuity issues that I noticed, particularly when she’s able to get a skeleton key made. Many of these issues happen towards the beginning of the book, where the writing felt the choppiest. At one point in my notes I wondered if the book was a YA book (nothing wrong with that!), as the book didn’t have that grittiness to it that I was expecting. Which I was quite fine with it not being graphic, it was just different than how I thought it was going to be!
Once I got over my frustration with the convenience of certain plot points and Charlotte’s “we’ll be out in a week” attitude, and I stopped nitpicking the book, then I really started to enjoy it! There was one plot reveal towards the end that completely surprised me – but one that made such perfect sense that looking back I can’t see how I missed it. I love, love, love it when reveals happen that way, and really enjoyed that Woman 99 was able to surprise me and keep me engaged at the end. While the beginning was rough for me, the last third of the book had me on the edge of my seat and I couldn’t put the book down! So, overall, I did enjoy the book and thought it had a solid ending.
Bottom Line: Convenience issues aside, I did enjoy this!