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Islands of Mercy

3.80  ·  Rating details ·  847 ratings  ·  169 reviews

She was ‘The Angel of the Baths’, the one woman whose touch everybody yearned for. Yet she would do more. She was certain of that.

In the city of Bath, in the year 1865, an extraordinary young woman renowned for her nursing skills is convinced that some other destiny will one day show itself to her. But when she finds herself torn between a dangerous affair with a fema

Kindle Edition, 368 pages
Published September 10th 2020 by Vintage Digital
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Average rating 3.80  · 
Rating details
 ·  847 ratings  ·  169 reviews

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Aug 26, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Another grand offering by Ms Tremain!
A novel which has several protagonists, all so different and peculiar and interconnected, and who are special in their own ways, and who seek something or run away from something.
The year is 1865, and Clorinda Morrissey leaves Dublin to seek fortune in Bath. Jane Adearne, a nurse called the Angel of Bath, helps the infirm to regain their health. Valentine Ross, a surgeon working together with Sir William Adearne, Jane's father, decides to 'pop a question' to
Sep 17, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The audiobook is narrated by Katie McGrath. Do I really need to say more ?
May 22, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This ambitious novel takes us from Dublin to Bath with Clorinda Morrissey, from Bath to London and Paris with ‘the Angel of Bath’ Jane Adearne and to Borneo with Sir Ralph Savage and Edmund Ross, brother of Valentine Ross, the would be husband of Jane. The year is 1865.

First of all, this is extremely well written as you would expect from a writer of the calibre of Rose Tremain. It beautifully and almost forensically reflects the times - it’s social mores, beliefs, attitudes, the scientific unde
Sep 17, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Katie McGrath’s power ✨
May 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this! This a story of self determination and life paths chosen; what are the driving forces of our lives? What motivates? What holds us back? The characters are well drawn, the settings, Ireland, Bath and Borneo. The women seem stronger than the men, capable of rolling with life’s punches, while the men seem rather ineffectual. Many thanks to Netgalley for an arc of this book.
Jun 10, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: netgalley
I am a fan of Rose Tremain’s writing and wondered why I wasn’t taking to this novel as much as I had expected to. The quality of her writing is undiminished - she is an expert at capturing landscape and cityscape, and characters’ thoughts and feelings, I just didn’t engage with those characters. Of them all, perhaps Clorinda’s journey was the most captivating - she is intuitive, honest with herself and others, driven to better her own and others’ lives. Jane and the Rajah in their own ways hope ...more
Sep 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Katie McGrath narrating book made the entire experience so much better, and I'd gladly sign a petition for her to narrate more books.
That being said, this book in itself was magnificent. I loved everything about it, from the characters to their different plots and the writing, chefs' kiss. This was my first Tremain book and i am so glad i came across her. I can't really describe it but her writing made me feel some type of way and i want to feel that way again.
Part of the plot being about life
Jelena Ajdarevic
I dont know if I d grab this book to read of my own volition, coz this is not always the genre I prefer, to be honest, but finding out it was narrated by wonderful Katie McGrath, spurred me on to get the audio version of the book. Just started it, but I ll properly comment on it when I finish it...

So the book is finished, I mean the audiobook version and I can now just go around yapping how talented Miss McGrath is cause she truly is! Listening to her I really had an experience many people narra
Oct 01, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5, rounded up - mainly for the beauty of Tremain's writing. She is incredibly gifted and I have been impressed with the few novels by her that I read. Unfortunately, I have mixed feelings here with the story itself, whether it worked, whether or not Tremain achieved her intended goal. Still, an entertaining read overall which should appeal to readers that like to slip into the Victorian world. ...more
I put this book down at 8% after reading the first four chapters. Unfortunately, I couldn't get past the writing style. The author has attempted to emulate the typical writing and narrative styles of the 19th century, when the book is set, which has resulted in a rather dry and, to put it bluntly, boring book (as far as I read). Nothing about the first few chapters gripped me and the way certain themes were handled and discussed (such as miscarriages) made me uncomfortable. To be entirely honest ...more
Oct 16, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
So first of all, I listened to it on Audible, cause hearing Katie McGrath amazing voice acting out the dialogues and everything made my whole month (I might be in love honestly).
Now the development of Jane is just *chef's kiss* and the story telling is just amazing. Every characters are intertwined and each chapters brings out a whole other side of their respective stories.
I found that they were nearly all relatively good characters on the moral front (jury's still out on Leon) EXCEPT Dr. Valen
Oct 03, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I want to start off by saying that I listened to the audiobook but I couldn’t find it here on goodreads so yeah. Not gonna lie, I came here for Katie McGrath’s narration but the writing made me stay as well! I genuinely don’t want to go over each and every aspect I love about this book because then I’d have to write an essay the length of the book itself. However, Jane herself and her relation with other characters (but, especially with Julietta) was -as Katie would say- delicious.
The slightly odd title tells you a lot about what Tremain is doing in this 14th novel. Often at the mercy of forces internal and external, her outcast characters look for places where they can find rest and refuge after a time of suffering. Will they, in turn, extend mercy? The split perspective and the focus on people who have to hide their sexuality are most similar to her Sacred Country. The Victorian tip of the hat is mostly directed, I think, to George Eliot; of recent work, I was reminded ...more
Oct 31, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-i-own, lgbt
Katie McGrath's narration was the saving grace as I had to switch from the book to the audio in order to finish it. I so wanted to enjoy this as we need more queer fiction but this was difficult to get through in terms of the writing style, the plot, the under-developed characters. Then villainizing the straight guy basically makes it seem like she's gay because of that and not simply the fact that she is gay. It had potential but I did not feel it delivered. ...more
Floor Flawless
I liked the perspective of Jane more than the perspective of the Rajah. But overall I quite enjoyed this book. I think I should read historical fiction more often.
David Lowther
Nov 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Islands of Mercy is a superb novel set in the latish 19th.century in a variety of locations; Bath, London, Dublin, Paris, West coast of Ireland and Borneo. It is, first and foremost, a magnificent story. It has a cast list of many, all of whom are fascinating and beautifully drawn. The prose is simple and totally prescriptive and the narrative frequently exciting.

Islands of Mercy is also an erotic novel. All the sex scenes are between characters of the same sex except, occasionally, reference is
Anna Baillie-Karas
At first I loved this as a cosy escape, with assured writing, strong women and genteel Bath tea-rooms & exotic Borneo settings. But the sting went out of it. There was a lack of tension between the characters. Jane must choose between a ho-hum marriage and a comfortable & exciting single life. She’ll be fine either way, so it’s hard to care. The Borneo story is colonial with local man (& some colonists) painted as villain, and doesn’t connect with the main plot so seems irrelevant. I love Rose T ...more
DNF at page 100

I read Rose Tremain's The American Lover, which I found absolutely wonderful. I was very excited for this new novel of hers. Sadly, it wasn't for me.

Although Islands of Mercy has some stunning writing, I'm afraid to say I was bored throughout what I read. There are multiple storylines, but I did not find all of them equally interesting. Perhaps Tremain brings these different strands together in a satisfying way, but I simply didn't have the patience to wait for her to get that fa
Jan 30, 2021 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I was very much looking forward to this new novel by Rose Tremain and to begin with I thought I would really love it. She creates a delightful character in Irish Clorinda Morrissey who remakes her life in Bath in the 1860s. Then we meet Jane Adeane, who works as a nurse with her father and is known as ‘the Angel of the Baths’. It seemed to me that Tremain was showing us how, in the midst of trouble, illness and despair, there are ‘islands of mercy’ in the small things of life. A friendly hand, a ...more
Historical fiction is my joint third most read genre this year, and I’ve been particularly enjoying reading sapphic historical fiction, so when I saw this on Netgalley I was so excited to read it! Sadly, however, I just didn’t click with it and eventually DNFed it. The writing style is so reminiscent of a 19th century novel and often felt like I was being read to. The book is told in third person perspectives by some omnipresent narrator that switched between characters and places halfway throug ...more
Anne Fenn
Oct 25, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I quite like a writer who sometimes thrills, sometimes disappoints. I found Rose Tremain’s The Road Home fascinating, while Merivel left me cold. She’s an adventurous writer, going just where she wants her to with every new book. Islands of Mercy is almost a modern day Dickensian novel, ranging from Bath to Borneo in 1867, with characters developing, fading, coming back into view. The story revolves around a group of medical people in Bath, then follows them to London, Paris, and Borneo. Jane Ad ...more
Emer  Tannam
Jan 11, 2021 rated it liked it
This was fine. I’ve enjoyed other books of hers a lot more. I didn’t engage with any of the characters, and found the half of the book set in Borneo quite boring. Having said that, it was an easy read, and furnished with interesting historical details, about practicing medicine in the 19th century, or traveling at sea. However, it isn’t a book that will stay with me.
Oct 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is absolutely gorgeous - both outside and inside - so I got my money's worth. I read this way more slowly than I wanted to, because I didn't want it to end!

Also, I was pleasantly surprised that the characters I wanted to get happy endings got them, and the ones I didn't didn't.
Sep 19, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I thought the prose was lovely and the way all of the individual stories were woven together was seamless. However, Jane and Julietta’s story and Clorinda’s whole arc kept me interested in this book the most.
Megan Jones
Sep 10, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In the city of Bath, in the year 1865, an extraordinary young woman renowned for her nursing skills is convinced that some other destiny will one day show itself to her. But when she finds herself torn between a dangerous affair with a female lover and the promise of a conventional marriage to an apparently respectable doctor, her desires begin to lead her towards a future she had never imagined. Meanwhile, on the wild island of Borneo, an eccentric British ‘rajah’, Sir Ralph Savage, overflowing ...more
Rosalind Bryden
I love Rose Tremain's writing and was delighted to have the opportunity to read Islands of Mercy. Unfortunately, however, I really struggled to get involved with this story.

The book is set in 1865 and follows the story of Jane Adeane, who becomes known as the Angel of the Baths thanks to her extraordinary nursing skills. Jane is sure that she has something important to offer and as the story develops we see conflict develop in her life. She attempts to conform to expected roles, but realises tha
Rose Tremain's writting style is very captivating. She describes everything with such detail and grace that it is impossible not to imagine everything as if it were a movie playing in front of you. Even the disturbing and upsetting parts of the plot were described by words so romantic and beautiful that would have seemed impossible. However, some of the plot was upsetting because of the time period and beliefs people had back then, and some circumstances that are just sad. This made it hard to k ...more
Ivor Armistead
Jan 05, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A book very much worth reading with well drawn characters of several stripes, some who overcome obstacles (whether created by societal station or expectation), some utterly unable to cope and allow their lives to spiral out of control and some who seem blissfuly unaware. I read two earlier books by Rose Tremain (“Restoration” and “Merivel”) nearly ten years ago, enjoyed them but did not follow up. “Islands of Mercy” came to me thanks to the subscription service of Heywood Hill, booksellers in Lo ...more
Laura Spira
Nov 20, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A great joy to read a new book by Rose Tremain. Her skilful writing conjures up wildly differing scenes - a tea shop in Bath, an artist's studio in Chelsea, the jungles of Borneo - providing a vivid backdrop for a cast of finely drawn characters, all seeking to find the place in Victorian society where they might fit comfortably and find consolation and peace. While some of their struggles lead to cruelty and violence, it is a book full of small kindnesses which make huge differences - and the ...more
Alice Ding
After seeing many great reviews of this book I was very excited to read it, and in the end, I was a bit disappointed with it. The characters felt fairly two dimensional with little depth to them, the plot a series of sequential events that did not amount to anything meaningful. All the while when reading, I hoped to infer some deeper, elusive, hidden insight. That's not to say this book is bad, but I only found it superficially enjoyable. ...more
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Rose Tremain's best-selling novels have won many awards, including the Baileys Women's Prize, the Whitbread Novel of the Year, the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, and the Prix Femina Etranger. Restoration, the first of her novels to feature Robert Merivel, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. She lives in Norfolk and London with the biographer Richard Holmes. ...more

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61 likes · 20 comments
“Let winter come. Let the snow fall and consume Bath in a shroud of silence. Let everything feel as bound and stifled as my heart.” 1 likes
“We cannot shape the world according to the delights society decrees appropriate for us; we must be unconventional in our joys and find them wherever we can.” 0 likes
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