I love it when I discover a new author, one that I know I will enjoy, one that will make me search out all the published titles, and hang on, waiting for new works. Beverly Swerling is my newest find. It's not like she hasn't been around for a while. Her first novel appeared back in 2001 ... and what a place to start!
The settlement of New Amsterdam was a commercial venture right from the start and with commerce came the wealthy looking to become more wealthy, the adventurers who would explore the new ways of life , the moral and the amoral, the poor looking to better themselves, and all stripes in between. Swerling writes a novel that brings the reader to New Amsterdam through the experiences of Lucas Turner and his sister, Sally. Lucas is a barber and surgeon newly arrived from Rotterdam, Sally is his apothecary assistant. Together, the two hope to make their way in the New World, where the need for competent surgeons is constant.
Lucas and Sally reflect the beginnings of a move within medicine - a time when herbs and simples were becoming better understood, when the concepts of blood transfusion, the practice of sterilization of instruments and bandages was becoming known, but still little understood, when anatomy was still a mystery to some physicians, but slowly becoming known to surgeons, when there was a great deal of consternation about new practices that might be considered unnatural, evil, and even smacking of witchcraft. Lucas and Sally fight ignorance and share their skills in order to make a living. The story follows their settlement and subsequent marriages before turning to their progeny and the further development of the city, as it becomes a colony of the British and is re-named New York ... and so it goes. The book is written in sections labelled Book I, II, III, etc. that cut across the years between 1664 and 1798. Each era deals with members of the Turner or Van der Vries (Sally's married name) families, the further development of the medical field through their experiences, and the development of New York City and the colonial expansion of Manhattan and the environs.
Swerling has done an incredible job of researching and developing her story - rather, stories. It's a saga ... and a good one, indeed. At no time does she compromise the good story to become too didactic about the history and vice versa. The history is never compromised to build the story. She has gone on to write three more books in what has become known as her City of Dreams series. They bring the development of the city up through the Gilded Age and are all meticulously researched as well as having meaty fictional story lines set within the framework of the urban history.