New York in 1845 was a powder-keg of unrest. With an influx of Irish immigrants escaping the tragic Great Potato Famine into an already packed city, the New York summer of 1845 was filled with riots, religious unrest, murder, and the eventual birth of the New York Police Department, known by New Yorkers as a "standing army." Timothy Wilde, once a bartender with an unfulfilled love for a charitable woman named Mercy Underhill, has accepted a position as a policeman after a horrible fire leaves him with no bar to tend and his face disfigured. Amidst racism, brothels, drugs and murder, Timothy learns there is much more darkness in the city than he ever imagined. When a young girl, Bird, runs into him one night during his rounds, her nightdress covered in blood, with unbelievable stories of a murdered child, his new career becomes even darker.
A strong dislike for his older and more politically-minded brother, Val, Timothy's got an ethical side that can't be undone. Even with Bird, he doesn't have the heart to deliver her to the House of Refuge for orphaned children and instead takes her back to his apartment building where the female proprietor cares for her. As he takes the case to uncover the child murders, which seem to point heavily to a blatant hatred for Irish Catholicism, Timothy's unsure of who to rely on. His brother is of questionable character and the locals don't take any issue with brothels, even if children are an option. It's a gritty underworld that he didn't expect to be immersed in.
The Gods of Gotham is superb with early 1800s elements of New York life and American history, from the combination of race and religious unrest to the Irish "assimilation" into New York and even to the seedy brothels. While Mercy Underhill maintains her own sense of willful independence that at times was shocking, she provides the clear contrast to the city's evil with her ministering of care to the orphans and uncared for children, all the while dreaming of her one-day voyage across the Atlantic to England to escape New York. Each piece of the story was brilliant.
However, I did take issue with the audiobook so let me first encourage you to visit the Audible.com reviews site because I definitely do not represent the majority of the listeners. While I loved the story, I struggled with the audio considerably. In 1845 New York, I anticipated a little more accented English and instead felt the narrator's voice was flat and non-regional, and a good portion of the audio was monotonous, even to the point that there wasn't any variation between the male voices. There was also a distinct lack of emotion for several of Timothy's truly painful moments and with such a vivid story, it's unfair to the characters to be so colorlessly represented. Usually, a narrator keeps a bad story going, but in this case, The Gods of Gotham was thankfully a captivating tale which was the sole reason I was motivated to continue. I do want to mention that there was one bright spot that I loved in audio, which occurred between the newsboys and Timothy when they spoke "flash," a slang dialect of the lower classes in New York. It was extremely unique and interestingly enough, "flash" is also the foundation of several slang words we use today. Other reviews point out that these conversations were a difficult part when reading in print, however I can say the audiobook makes it much, much easier to understand and visualize and I do feel the narrator did a good job here. (For a really cool interview with the author discussing "flash," click here.)
The story and historical elements are fascinating and while it was a bit wordy at the start of the book, it evened out and became an engaging tale which makes me now eagerly await the sequel. At that time, though, I will be reading the printed version versus listening to the audio.
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Audio Time: 12 hours, 9 minutes
Release Date: 3/5/12
Narrator: Steven Boyer
The Guilded Earlobe (Audio Review)
FTC Disclaimer: I purchased this audio book at Audible.com
About the Author (from her website)
Lyndsay Faye is the author of Dust and Shadows: An Account of the Ripper Killings by Dr. John H. Watson and the most recent bestseller The Gods of Gotham. Originally from the Pacific Northwest, she has adopted New York City as her second home, where she resides with her husband and too many cats and is at work on her next novel, a sequel to The Gods of Gotham.
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