The Invincible Miss Cust by Penny Haw
The year 2022 marks the centenary of Aleen Cust’s (the first female veterinary surgeon to be recognized by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons) finally receiving her diploma. The pre-printed “Mr.” on it had been struck out and “Miss” added by hand. In The Invincible Miss Cust, author Penny Haw, shares the story of an incredible woman with big dreams that neither society, the law, nor even her family, could stop.
The Invincible Miss Cust is history come alive on the page! This novel follows the story of Aleen Cust. “Born in Ireland in 1868 to an aristocratic 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.”
Aleen’s character is full of passion and determination. In a society that views her desire to become a veterinarian as something unnatural, Aleen refuses to back down. While this is a true-life historical figure that I had personally never heard of before, Aleen was a joy to get to know.
Haw has clearly done an immense amount of research into Aleen’s life. While this is a retelling and some creative license has been taken, the events portrayed on paper mostly align with Aleen’s real life. I also found that the creative liberties used worked well for the overall story. (The author’s note at the back of the book was helpful with this.)
Although there were a few pages where the fact-based recounting was more evident, this work of fiction was easy to read and highly enjoyable. Aleen’s motivations and discussion with her family and friends felt authentic and plausible for the time period. Her love for animals rippled off the pages and I found both the veterinary college and her work afterward fascinating. While the last couple of chapters moved quite quickly, the ending landed on a really solid note, leaving me very satisfied with this retelling.
Following the life of a trailblazing woman, The Invincible Miss Cust is a compelling read. Perfect for fans of authors like Marie Benedict, Tracey Enerson Wood, or Stephanie Dray, this book is a fascinating historical read that will have you actively researching more about this invincible woman.
Readers looking for historical fiction based upon real life.
This post contains affiliate links; as an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. ARC provided courtesy of the publisher, Sourcebooks. All opinions expressed are my own.
About the book:
(From the publisher): Must-read historical fiction for fans of Marie Benedict and Tracey Enerson Wood, based on the real life of Britain and Ireland’s first woman veterinary surgeon.
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.