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The Invincible Miss Cust by Penny Haw: A Book Review

The Invincible Miss Cust
Author: Penny Haw
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Release Date: 2022
Pages: 320
Source: Netgalley/Publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis: Aleen Cust has big dreams. And no one―not her family, society, or the law―will stop her.

Born in Ireland in 1868 to an aristocratic English family, Aleen knows she is destined to work with animals, even if her family is appalled by the idea of a woman pursuing a veterinary career. Going against their wishes but with the encouragement of the guardian assigned to her upon her father's death, Aleen attends the New Veterinary College in Edinburgh, enrolling as A. I. Custance to spare her family the humiliation they fear. At last, she is on her way to becoming a veterinary surgeon! Little does she know her biggest obstacles lie ahead.

     The Invincible Miss Cust is based on the real life of Aleen Isabel Cust, who defied her family and society to become Britain and Ireland's first woman veterinary surgeon. Through Penny Haw's meticulous research, riveting storytelling, and elegant prose, Aleen's story of ambition, determination, family, friendship, and passion comes to life. It is a story that, even today, women will recognize, of battling patriarchy and an unequal society to realize one's dreams and pave the way for other women in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.


     My Review: Aleen Cust was the first female veterinarian in Great Britain and Ireland. In this biographical novel, the story tells how Aleen defied both her family and society’s expectations in order to pursue her dreams. Aleen has always had a love for animals. When her beloved dog dies, she wants to become a veterinarian to heal other animals in the future. However, her family believes that being a veterinarian is not suitable for an aristocratic woman. Nevertheless, Aleen Cust is determined to become a veterinarian at all costs.

I had never heard of Aleen Cust before I read this book. Because I have a strong interest in books of women in male-dominated professions, this novel seemed to be the perfect read for me. Aleen was a very fascinating woman. I admired her love for animals and how she was determined to heal them. I also loved her stubbornness. She was willing to go against society’s wishes to follow her own ideals. However, Aleen was very flawed and vulnerable. She made many wrong choices that were sometimes hard to sympathize with. Despite these flaws, I still found her mostly likable, and I wanted her to find happiness.

Overall, this novel is about passion, dreams, and perseverance. The novel tells the story of an unconventional woman who succeeded in a male-dominated profession. The characters were very complex and well-rounded. The pacing of the novel, however, was uneven. The first half started out great, but it dragged in the second half. Thus, this novel should have been shorter. Still, I like the historical details in the story, and I found it to be meticulously researched. I recommend this for fans of The Woman at the Front, The Girl in His Shadow, and My Name is Mary Sutter! The Invincible Miss Cust is a riveting tribute to a forgotten but larger than life woman! 

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

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