Thank you to Peachtree Publishers for sending me a copy of The Spirit Bares Its Teeth in exchange for an honest review.

In 1883, the veil between the living and the dead has grown thin. Violet-eyed mediums have a unique ability to commune with spirits. The Royal Speaker Society oversees these mediums, but 16-year-old Silas Bell would rather pluck out his own violet eyes than become a submissive Speaker wife. His family insists, however, that he’ll marry by the end of the year, despite the decade of tutors needed to conceal his autism, his desire to become a surgeon or the fact that he knows he’s not a girl.

Following Silas’ last desperate attempt to avoid marriage, the Speakers diagnose him with “Veil sickness.” They send him to Braxton’s Sanitorium and Finishing School. There, he’ll learn to be the perfect wife — or vanish forever. When the ghosts of missing students come to him for help, Silas resolves to expose Braxton’s sinister truths to the world while grappling with the school’s relentless efforts to break his spirit.

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The Spirit Bares Its Teeth is a difficult book to review. If you read Andrew Joseph White‘s debut novel, Hell Followed With Us, you’ll have a sense of what you’re getting into. This is a genuinely dark book, full of sadistic acts and twisted individuals. Please pay attention to the trigger warnings before diving in.

While this version of London is fictional, its treatment of women and queer people isn’t. The Spirit Bares Its Teeth focuses on a dark era of medical history in which women and minorities were experimented on to cure them of their “ailments.” Anyone that didn’t conform to society’s expectations is at risk. Reading about this from a modern perspective is fascinating, heartbreaking and all too relevant.

One of the strongest parts of The Spirit Bares Its Teeth is Silas’ conviction in himself. Despite everything the world tells him, he never once questions who he is. He knows he’s a trans boy, and he knows he’s autistic. It’s everyone else putting pressure on him to be something he’s not that’s the problem.

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I do wish White explored the spiritualism aspect more fully. It felt almost like an afterthought, another way to show how men control this world. Much of the story could have continued in the same way without it. However, the scenes that did portray ghosts were so intense and visceral, and I would have loved to see more of that.

Overall, The Spirit Bares Its Teeth is a heavy read but a good one. It’s a truly dark story of patriarchy and ableism that masterfully blends genres.

The Spirit Bares Its Teeth comes out on September 5 and is available for preorder from your local independent bookstore or Bookshop.org.

The author shared the following trigger warnings, but check Storygraph for a full list:
anti-autistic ableism, gaslighting and abuse, graphic violence, medical gore, including an on-page Cesarean section, medical/psychiatric abuse, including dubious diagnosis and treatment, minor discussions of miscarriage, sexual assault – implied, attempted, and on-page, transphobia (explicit misgendering, dead-naming, transphobic violence/conversion therapy)

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