Set in the late 1800's , the storyline is set around three main characters who have different backgrounds, breeding and beliefs. The book had me enthralled within the first few pages due to the air of mystery that was created.
The characters are vividly described and the attention to detail of the settings, language used and etiquette is superb. The story is based on two scholars, one for the priesthood and one training to become a doctor in pathology. During his training to become a doctor he is given the chance to study on live cases who are working girls and are suffering from venereal diseases. This appeals to him very strongly but when he tries to explain this to his friend, who is studying for the priesthood, conflict of interests arise. The priest-to-be is appalled and horrified that the doctor could cure the girls so they could go back to plying their immoral trade.
On his research at the Asylum the doctor falls in love with the woman who runs the shelter. When his trainer cannot attend a ball he gives the doctor the two tickets and he takes his priest friend. On arriving at the ball he sees his lover in the arms of another man and the priest recognises her from his past life.
The author then relates each of the characters stories, the trainee priest, the trainee doctor and the madam. As each of the story unfolds, you find yourself drawn further into the book, sensing how each character is feeling and understanding the motives for their beliefs, some of which are still poignant today as we judge people we do not know without really getting to know them. The difference between the classes are a major issue in this book, how the rich live and dominate, the students living in squalor and struggling to survive and finally the working class who have to make ends meet in anyway.
When you read this book you will find yourself challenging your thoughts and beliefs. As each story gets further down the line, the mysterious air and lives of each of the characters still remains and it is not until right at the end of the story you get the full picture.
The period of the storyline is one of my favourites in history and is excellently represented and anyone who enjoys historic novels must read this book.