Rummanah Aasi
  Savage Girl by Jean Zimmerman has an attention grabbing premise: What would happen if a wealthy couple with everything they could possibly imagine came across a so-called "feral child" in a tawdry Nevada sideshow and decides to bring her back to New York and convert her into a society belle? Though light on the suspense, Savage Girl is an intriguing historical fiction.

Description: Bronwyn, a very smart eighteen year-old girl raised in the wild by wolves in Nevada, is adopted in 1875 by the Delegates a wealthy Manhattan couple, and taken back East to be civilized and introduced into high society, but the men who seek to be her suitors start turning up dead.

Review: Savage Girl is marketed as a historical fiction/murder mystery and its blurb grabbed my attention right away. Set in the 1870s post-Civil War America, the book's plot centers around a serial killer whose rampage ranges from a rough mining community in Nevada to upper-class Manhattan. Our narrator Hugo Delegate, Harvard-educated son of one of New York's wealthiest and most socially connected families, is locked up for the gruesome murder of another New York dandy. He willingly claims his guilt, but we can easily tell that he is taking the blame for someone else who has committed the real crime. Sensing a story folded in a Hugo's confession, Hugo's expensive lawyers demand he tell them the true story from the beginning.
  Hugo starts with his family's visit to Virginia City, Nev., home of his father Freddy's silver mine. Soon, Hugo's parents, eccentric liberals interested in the nurture/nature debate raised by Darwin, are eager to adopt a young girl they have discovered in a Virginia City freak show, the girl's owner of which claims she was raised by wolves. Of unknown origins, she speaks Comanche as well as a smattering of English, and her performance involves a set of mechanical claws and a swimming tank.
 The unknown girl, whose name turns out to be Bronwyn, travels on the Delegates' private train to New York, where the Delegates plan to give her a makeover a la My Fair Lady and show her off as their prized possession and a symbol of compassion and philanthropy. Bronwyn captivates her audiences, particularly males and never manages to shake off her mysterious aura. Soon one grisly murder after another seems to follow in Bronwyn's wake, the victim always a man who has shown his attraction to Bronwyn's considerable charms. Is Bronwyn, with her animal-like instincts, the killer? Or is it Hugo, with his past mental problems, his capacity to black out and his love for Bronwyn that borders on jealous insanity?
  I really enjoyed the historical aspects of this book. Zimmerman zeroes in the the mannerisms and social issues of the late 1800s much like Edith Wharton did, which for me, was the highlight of this book. I was shocked to find out that cases of feral children being sold and "trained for society" was common especially when a bloody Civil War about slavery was recently over. Unfortunately, the mystery surrounding the serial killer is not as prominent in this book and it felt underdeveloped with new clues and a hurried solution appearing at the end of the book, which made me disappointed. I would still recommend it to those who enjoy a well written historical fiction and are interested in learning the social, political, and philosophical issues that are the driving issues of post Civil War America.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There are allusions to sexual assault and sexual situations though never explicit. There are some disturbing images such as mutilated body parts in the book and some language. Recommended for adults.

If you like this book try: The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress by Ariel Lawson, The Ghost of Mary Celeste by Valerie Martin
2 Responses
  1. I'll probably pass on this one, Rummanah, because the murder mystery is actually what I would find most interesting about it. It's disappointing to hear then that you felt it was underdeveloped and had a hurried solution.


  2. Aylee Says:

    Wow, you're right about that premise! That's enough to get me to read this one alone because it sounds unlike any histfic I've ever encountered. Although ideally the mystery would have been handled better... still, I'm very much intrigued now!


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