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Will Starling by Ian Weir
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Will Starling

by Ian Weir

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Will Starling, who served as a surgeon’s assistant during wartime for 5 years, and his employer have returned to London in 1816 shortly after the Napoleonic Wars. It is a time when London’s inhabitants are striving to rise above the misfortune of war while surgeons seek to uncover the mysteries of life and death. Their ever-growing need to learn about human anatomy has given rise to a black market of grave robberies, for dissection purposes, subjecting them to distrust and fear by the general public.

This new world of experimental scientific knowledge is led by Dionysus Atherton, a surgeon convinced he can bring the dead back to life through unorthodox methods. His increasing thirst for knowledge, and the rumors which surrounded his practice, have raised Will’s suspicions. Will has his own reasons to dislike Dionysus, certain he harbors terrible secrets, and will stop at nothing to get the evidence he needs to put a stop to Dionysus’ way of practicing medicine. However, the more he digs into Dionysus’ life, the worst things become for Will until the secrets he uncovers forever changes his own life.

I enjoyed getting historical background about the great experiments with life and death attempted by surgeons of the day, as well as learning about the London of 1816, and could easily see how these unusual experiments seemed to have given Mary Shelley the inspiration she needed to write “Frankenstein.” What I did not enjoy was the increasingly confusing manner in which the story was told, going from the present to the past or even to the future, and then doubling back to the present. There were all manner of asides thrown into Will’s rambling narrative, which made me flip back and forth to figure out what had happened so I could put it in its context.

Despite these flaws, “Will Starling” will enlighten many on the subject of surgeons of the 19th century, as well as the life and times of 1816 London.

Recommended for Adult readers.

Blog link to review: https://shouldireaditornot.wordpress.com/2015/11/08/will-starling-ian-weir/ ( )
  sunshinealma | Nov 8, 2015 |
I was provided with an ARC by the publisher, and have been captivated ever since.
Will Starling is set in London in 1816, a city supercharged on the one hand by scientific advances yet hammered by the recently ended Napoleonic War. Will, an ex-soldier, moves in the seedy neighborhoods trying to make a living working for a surgeon and educating himself through his experiences and any book he can lay his hands on.
The story is one of a love that was lost because it was never truly given, the Doomsday Men who rob graves to feed the rapacious needs of the surgical colleges for cadavers, and a woman sacrificed to one surgeon’s desire for fame.
You won’t find much of the pretty parlors and ladies that populate so many other books. This takes readers into the filthy streets and derelict houses for an unflinching study of the realities most people lived at that time. The language is accurate to the times without becoming overwhelming for modern readers, and everything about the settings enhances the dark intentions of so many people…not the least of which reside in the heart of a surgeon who reaps other people’s pain for his own gain.
Once you read Will Starling, you’ll look for other books by Ian Weir. I certainly will.
( )
  Laine-Cunningham | Feb 22, 2015 |
"This is where the tale grows wild. We will need dark nights and thunderstorms as we proceed; howling winds, and hearts afire with unspeakable yearnings. But upon my oath and upon my soul: what I am telling you is true."

Whether Will Starling's version of truth will align with yours as a reader remains to be seen, but the process of determination is pure pleasure.

The sensory detail, the feisty characterization, the engaging pace: all of these qualities made Ian Weir's novel a stand-out read for me.

I discuss it in detail here, alongside LInden MacIntyre's novel, Punishment. ( )
  buriedinprint | Feb 19, 2015 |
Will Starling is set in the years after the Napoleonic War during a time when Doomsday men rob graves to help the surgeons and medical schools find cadavers with which to further their learning. Our lead character and narrator comes across clearly, with a strong character and powerful voice and the disadvantages of poverty, ugliness, and having been raised an orphan. He's both street smart and quite sharp, he's learned to live by his wits and is quite fond of large words and pretty turns of phrase. He's not shy about pushing himself forward and keeps his eye out for an opportunity. He apprentices to a surgeon and travels in the underworld, this leads him to discover the possible shady tactics of other surgeons and an illicit attempt to raise the dead.

The writing and language is sharp and distinct. Will Starling is an unusual lead character and for those who enter his world, someone hard to forget. ( )
  gaby317 | Feb 5, 2015 |
Showing 4 of 4
Let me bite the bullet and say it; I don’t think that Frankenstein is a great book. However there is no doubting its importance or its cultural relevance. At the heart of the book lies an endlessly fascinating question; was Frankenstein’s error in creating life, or in failing to take responsibility for the life he created? A similar dilemma can be found in Will Starling, a terrific new novel by Ian Weir.

Some novels take some time to find their rhythm, but I knew that this book was good from the first page. Mr. Wier grabs you by the lapels, with great style and a distinct and original prose. The first-person narration, by one Will Starling, is full of charm and unflagging energy, and I could have read this novel for that alone and been satisfied. There is however, a whole lot more to this novel than that.

WIll has just come back from the Napoleonic wars to England, having become an assistant to the brilliant but poor Surgeon Alec Comrie. They are starting a practice in the slums of Cripplegate, and have some familiarity with the Doomsday Men; the body-snatchers who provide corpses for surgeons. They are also known the rich and equally brilliant Surgeon Dionysus Atherton.

The plot of this tale is rollicking yet layered, so I am loathe to tell you much more, but after a botched grave-robbery, and some mob justice, a grieving prostitute is accused of murder, and Will Starling, with one foot in the street and one foot in the world of science and medicine, begins to see a conspiracy of diabolical cleverness that may involve Atherton, and may also just ensnare anyone who gets caught up in it.

Like the medical science of the time, the world portrayed by Mr. Weir is bloody and short. This is an historical novel that is full of sharp detail, but it’s not about hoop skirts and fox hunts. There is a loaf of anger in this story and most of it is righteous and well-deserved. Most of the characters in Will Starling have the deck stacked against them, but they push on, with a perseverance and an elan that makes a grim book a pleasure to read. Not to say that things are all sunshine and roses; there is plenty of misery to go around. Unrequited love, injustice, poverty, betrayal, arrogance, hubris, it’s all here in spades.

The bravery of common people, and the dignity of the downtrodden, and Mr. Weir’s care for these characters makes it all work. Will, the narrator is the star, but all of the rest of the characters, not matter how small, are brought to life. Meg Nancarrow will haunt me for years. She’s the kind of character that could carry her own book with ease.

When the story starts to race towards the end I got the feeling that I often get with the best of books; that the outcome is both surprising and inevitable, and that as much as I wanted to find out what happened, I dreaded the book coming to end. The question Ms. Shelley asked so many years ago is still relevant, and in Will Starling Mr. Weir shows that the answer may never be known; but posing that question, and doing it with daring and originality, is important enough.

Review by: Mark Palm
Full Reviews Available at: http://www.thebookendfamily.weebly.co...
 
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0864926472, Hardcover)

From the acclaimed author of Daniel O'Thunder comes a rollicking, bawdy, and haunting novel about love and redemption, death and resurrection.

The great metropolis of London swaggers with Regency abandon as nineteen-year-old Will Starling returns from the Napoleonic Wars having spent five years assisting a military surgeon. Charming, brash, and damaged, Will is helping his mentor build a medical practice — and a life — in the rough Cripplegate area. To do so requires an alliance with the Doomsday Men: body snatchers that supply surgeons and anatomists with human cadavers.

After a grave robbing goes terribly awry and a prostitute is accused of murder, Will becomes convinced of an unholy conspiracy that traces its way back to Dionysus Atherton, the brightest of London's rising surgical stars. Wild rumours begin to spread of experiments upon the living and of uncanny sightings in London's dark streets.

Will's obsessive search for the truth twists through alleyways, brothels, and charnel houses, towards a shattering discovery — about Dionysus Atherton and about Will, himself.

Steeped in scientific lore, laced with dark humour, Will Starling is historical fiction like none other.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:50 -0400)

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