Overview: The tapestry of early American society is hung out for a fresh viewing in this ambitious historical novel of 1660s New Amsterdam. The English Turners are brother and sister, surgeon/barber and apothecary. Devoted to one another, Sally and Lucas quickly learn to make their way in the harsh, prosperous new world, aiding the Dutch governor Stuyvesant's family and making their reputation in the bargain. Then Lucas sells Sally in marriage to Jacob Van der Vries, a cruel, foolish physician, in order to save her life, Lucas says, but she believes it is to buy his lover's freedom to marry, and she never forgives him. This rift begins a feud between the Van der Vries (later Devreys) and Turners that lasts through the American Revolution. Colorful characters vie with historical figures for attention on this broad stage: there's Jennet, Sally's great-granddaughter, who marries a wealthy Jew; Caleb Devrey, Jennet's first cousin, who loved her as a boy, but becomes her bitterest enemy; Morgan, Jennet's son, a privateer and patriot; and Morgan's best friend and former slave, Cuffy, whose fate is bound to Morgan's by love, hate and the same woman the gorgeous Roisin Campbell aka Mistress Healsall. The healing profession is carried down through each generation of Turners and Devreys, and Swerling's descriptions of early operations with crude instruments are detailed and riveting.
My review: Overall I enjoyed this book. The story was easy to get into and for the most part flowed from generation to generation. When she skipped the 2nd generation except for a few mentions here and there I realized she did so in order to move the story along. The story takes place over 137 years, I believe, so the author puts a lot into her story. She covers the birth of New York City to the birth of a nation. At times I got lost with who belonged to which of the 2 main families involved and had to review the family feuds. There is a mixture of American history along with the birth and advancements in the medical field in America. She traces the differences between surgeons and physicians and the specific practice of each field. She also includes the history of apothecaries (pharmacies).
If you're the person who watches the emergency room scenes on ER through your fingers when they start showing the blood, especially if you have an HD TV, you might want to skip some of the surgery scenes in this book. I'll admit some of those scenes made my toes curl and appreciate the marvels of today's medical science.
I have the second book in the series, Shadowbrook" in my TBR pile and have included it as part of my "Back To History" Challenge for 2008.