The Fair Fight by Anna Freeman
Anna Freeman writes with a vibrancy and energy that pulls the reader into the juxtaposing worlds of the upper-class toffs and the lower classes they use (and abuse) for entertainment. It was not surprising to learn that Freeman is also an award-winning slam poet; her prose has a driving rhythm to it. The narrative is split between three characters, each having been marginalized in their own way, and each offering a unique view of the story as it unfolds: Ruth, the rugged woman-boxer, raised amid the hand-to-mouth squalor of a brothel; George Bowen, the handsome but overlooked youngest son of a wealthy family with an addiction to gambling and a penchant for young men; and Miss Charlotte Sinclair, a pox-marred young woman relegated to the tedious role of being a lady without a clear future. Set against the teeming backdrop of early-Regency Bristol, Freeman intertwines the stories of these characters as they each struggle for their place in the world. I would give four stars alone for Freeman’s careful treatment of her characters’ motivations and reception in the world; she manages to tell a romping tale with strong (dare I say feminist!) characters without losing an ounce of realism, something that often slips up writers of historical fiction. The author’s careful research of boxing, and general life in this historical era is obvious as she crafts a beautifully well-rounded tale, at once harrowing and exciting– much like boxing itself. Though carefully researched, this book is more about the immediate characters’ lives and troubles than the overall historical period– there are no dealings with politics, no over-abundant descriptions of clothing, etc. Sometimes this was something I missed, but the inclusion of more historical detail may have dragged at the pace of the story. That being said, her use of period slang and idioms made dialogue a joy to read. Overall, I was kept guessing until the very end how these characters would settle and not disappointed with the end; I look forward to more of Freeman’s work (and, as I happily discovered on her blog, her second book shouldn’t be too long in coming as she signed a two-book deal!)!
Click here to read a very thorough piece on the history of women’s boxing!