Synopsis (mostly from Goodreads):
Some call the prize ring a nursery for vice . . .some have no better choice.
Born into a brothel, Ruth’s future looks bleak anyway until she catches the eye of Mr. Dryer. A rich Bristol merchant and enthusiast of the ring, he trains gutsy Ruth as a female pugilist. Soon she rules the blood-spattered sawdust at the infamous Hatchet Inn, being known for never saying ‘no’, even if she has to face the heaviest and most ruthless male opponents.
Dryer’s wife Charlotte lives in the shadows. She has no choice. A grieving orphan, she hides away her body scarred by smallpox. She is mostly ignored by Dryer and engaged in dangerous mind games with her brother who cannot get over the loss of a lover.
When Dryer sidelines Ruth after a disastrous fight, and focuses on training her husband Tom, Charlotte presents Ruth with an extraordinary proposition. As the tension mounts before Tom’s Championship fight, two worlds collide with electrifying consequences.
What I liked:
I enjoyed the fact that this novel, although a debut, was written in a compelling style and managed to keep me interested till almost the very end. The author created a bunch of original characters who, more or less, behaved as if they really lived at the beginning of the 19th century in England, no mean feat for a beginner and something I learned to appreciate more and more. Mind you two out of three main protagonists were females – an additional bonus.
The Fair Fight was told in first person narrative voice from three separate points of view: Ruth, George Bowden, a gentleman and a younger son from a good family, and Charlotte Dryer nee Sinclair, an unhappy aristocratic girl disfigured by smallpox. The tale of Ruth started this book off with a bang, followed by the narration by George and Charlotte. At the beginning I liked Ruth the best but then the character development of Charlotte managed to sway me a bit; still both girls were great, far greater than any male counterpart, George included. I liked it how the author merged those different perspectives and built a multi-faceted story from them.
What I didn’t like:
The narrative, oscillating between Ruth, Charlotte and George sometimes proved to be a tad superfluous. Not that George was a bad character, quite the opposite, but he was given too little space so his development was a bit stunted or at least so I felt. Ruth was quite a gutsy woman who told her life story in lower-class, uneducated slang. Charlotte was a noblewoman whose great looks were ruined by an illness which also took her parents and siblings. Still she had to manage in a society which assessed women mainly according to their attractiveness. Both these heroines were really good – I admit I would have gladly read this book told entirely from their point of view. In fact, I think I actually would have preferred it.
Accordingly the ending didn’t bring a much-wanted closure when it came to George and Charlotte. In fact I had an impression that the author left plenty of doors ajar so she could write a sequel. Some of the solutions sounded suspiciously like a cliffhanger. Cliffhangers I like not ;p.
A very interesting historical fiction novel presenting an unexplored topic of female pugilists in the 19th century England. Despite its flaws I would recommend it especially to fans of Sarah Waters.