Thursday, May 28, 2015

Book Review: "The Fair Fight" by Anna Freeman

"The Fair Fight" by Anna Freeman
First published in
480 pages
My rating: 4 out of 5
Image from Goodreads

The Short Of It:
This fascinating and unique historical fiction novel is about way more than just boxing. It was a bit over-lengthy, but it was still a really good read!

The Long Of It:
Pugilism -- the sport of boxing -- really doesn't bring to mind an image of a young woman in Georgian England, her dress hiked up to her knees, blood dripping down her face, her fist heading toward another woman's gut. But that's exactly what happens in "The Fair Fight," an engaging novel in which one of the stars is a female boxer.

This tale is set in late 1700s England and is told by three very different characters. Ruth -- our pugilist -- was born to a brothel-owner mother and an unknown father. Not pretty enough to be a working "miss" in the brothel, she finds an identity for herself in the brutal sport of boxing. George was brought up in a very different life, one of leisure, privilege and money. He's handsome, arrogant, self-absorbed and sorta cute in a dopey way. Stuck under the shadow of his best friend/male lover, he's constantly scheming to raise himself ever higher in the world. And Charlotte is the sister of George's significant other. Once a vibrant girl, she's now a meek, gloomy and smallpox-scarred young woman.

The fates of our three narrators -- who are just about as different as three people can be -- become intertwined because of a little incident that led to fisticuffs between Ruth and her sister at the brothel. Both Ruth and Charlotte are struggling to find their place in the world and escape the confines of their seemingly contrasting stations in life and you'll be cheering for them the whole way. You'll also be hoping the several antagonists get their due.

While this novel does indeed involve boxing, the title references much more than sport. "The Fair Fight" explores the dichotomy between rich and poor, and men and women. Any woman who wishes she could go back and live in a historic time period should read this book, because things are pretty damn awful for bottom-of-the-totem-pole Ruth and, in many ways, even worse for upper-class Charlotte. The way they're treated by men will disgust you. Freeman explores several other issues, too: love, loneliness, friendship, forgiveness, identity, and even karma.

The book shifts between the three storytellers throughout, and Freeman illustrates the vastly different lives our characters lead by repeating some of the same events in each narrative. It's a clever way to show us how much the worldview changes between economic class and gender. On top of that, the book is beautifully written, and I loved that Freeman managed to give each character a very distinct voice.

I highly enjoyed "The Fair Fight" and fully recommend it. Really, my only complaint about the work was that Freeman could have gotten her point across in 150 or so fewer pages. Other than the slightly draggy middle, this book was by turns fun, exciting, depressing, infuriating, sad and happy. If you're looking for a unique historical fiction novel, put "The Fair Fight" at the top of your list!

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