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The Savage Instinct

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England, 1873. Clara Blackstone has just been released after one year in a private asylum for the insane. Clara has two goals: to reunite with her husband, Henry, and to never—ever—return to the asylum. As she enters Durham, Clara finds her carriage surrounded by a mob gathered to witness the imprisonment of Mary Ann Cotton—England’s first female serial killer—accused of poisoning nearly twenty people, including her husbands and children.

Clara soon finds the oppressive confinement of her marriage no less terrifying than the white-tiled walls of Hoxton. And as she grows increasingly suspicious of Henry’s intentions, her fascination with Cotton grows. Soon, Cotton is not just a notorious figure from the headlines, but an unlikely confidante, mentor—and perhaps accomplice—in Clara’s struggle to protect her money, her freedom and her life.

In the lineage of Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace, The Savage Instinct is the chilling story of one woman's struggle for her sanity, set against the backdrop of the arrest and trial of Mary Ann Cotton, England’s first female serial killer.

377 pages, Kindle Edition

First published June 13, 2015

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About the author

Marjorie DeLuca

12 books93 followers
Marjorie DeLuca spent her childhood in the ancient cathedral city of Durham in North-Eastern England. She attended the University of London, became a teacher, and then immigrated to Canada. There she also studied writing under her mentor, Pulitzer Prize winning author, Carol Shields. She writes in many genres, including historical, suspense and YA sci-fi. She also writes for screen and TV..
Also writes as M.M. DeLuca.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 201 reviews
Profile Image for Nilufer Ozmekik.
2,302 reviews43.9k followers
November 29, 2021
Hell yeah! Finally a precious gem hooked me from the beginning: unconventional relationship of two women : one of them is a serial killer of her ex husbands and the other one is obviously being gaslighted by her devious husband.

A prisoner and a charity worker find the solace at each other. As Clara still deals with her deep grief after losing her child, intentionally getting traumatized and stifled by her control freak husband who brought her home from asylum after she had a tremendous episode for losing her child, her path crosses with a dangerous criminal who is assumed murderer got convicted to kill all the men did her wrong.

Interestingly the charity work in the prison Clara accepted provides her more freedom than her time she spends at her own house because Henry-the devil’s incarnated form as a husband does anything to prove her improperness as a wife to send her back to the asylum.

From the beginning we start to form a strong bond with Clara. We cross our fingers for her to get rid of her scumbag husband who definitely needs to be punched a million times. Even though her obsession about Mary Ann Cotton looks unhealthy and questionable, I can easily empathize her loneliness, her traumatized feelings because of being trapped in an undesirable marriage with a madman, her grief for her child, her shaken feelings and broken heart.

On the other hand,Mary Ann Cotton was terrifying character but as you read more about her back story, you start to realize she is not the villain of the story. In this book the author preferred to leave the questions about her innocence open ended. ( in real life it seems like she committed all those crimes but the author objectively reflected her motives and the reasons behind those crimes) So the way of fictionalizing the real life story is a little bit different from the events that occurred.

But the story’s wrapping up and satisfying conclusion were perfectly crafted.

The strange women relationship, intense atmosphere, increasing tension, psychological analysis of traumatic woman who lost her child and a convicted husband killer’s portraits were well depicted.

Overall: it was thrilling page turner made me sit on the edge of my couch, bite my nails and suffer from nightmares all night long.

I’m giving four gaslighting, serial killer, historical thriller stars!

Special thanks to Netgalley and Inkshares for sharing this digital reviewer copy with me in exchange my honest opinions.
Profile Image for jessica.
2,555 reviews35.5k followers
February 10, 2021
i love when authors and their books go through a rebranding. sometimes a little cover make-over can do wonders for a story that gets re-released. and even though this was originally published five years ago, the story feels new and relevant.

fans of ‘alias grace’ by margaret atwood and ‘burial rites’ by hannah kent will find theirselves right at home with this story. while this doesnt quite focus on the woman on trial like those books do, i still found the narrative to be an eye-opening (albeit massively frustrating) demonstration on how women were treated by society during that time.

while i personally would have liked mary ann cotton to have had more page time, this is a good story about the time period and the struggles of women, particularly their treatment by men and medical professionals.

thanks so much to inkshares for the ARC!

3.5 stars
Profile Image for Erin Clemence.
1,108 reviews323 followers
January 14, 2021
Special thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a free, electronic ARC of this novel received in exchange for an honest review.

Expected publication date: March 16, 2021

It is 1873, in London, England and Clara Blackstone has just been released from a mental asylum, placed there after an aggressive outburst brought on by the tragic death of her infant. Now that she is free, Clara is eager to begin her life again, and returns to the care of her husband, Henry. Clara quickly becomes obsessed with a local woman, Mary Ann Cotton (England’s first female serial killer), who is in jail on charges of killing all of her previous husbands, as well as all of her children. Clara begins to visit Mary Ann in jail, despite the protestations of her husband and society friends, and soon the two have formed a unique friendship. As Mary Ann’s execution date grows closer, Clara begins to see her husband’s true nature and she, too, starts to see herself as trapped in a prison of her own making.

“The Savage Instinct” is one of Marjorie DeLuca (or M.M Deluca) ’s first historical fiction novels, having mostly focused her writing attentions on young adult science fiction novels. I can honestly say after reading “Savage”, she has some definite writing chops in this new genre!

Right from the beginning, Clara generates sympathy from the reader. After being institutionalized merely for not grieving properly over the death of her infant, and having to start over again with a husband who wishes to rob her of her wealth and commit her once again for acts “unbecoming of a proper wife”, she is someone I immediately rooted for. Her husband, Henry, is an evil and heartless monster of a man, and the only joy I found in his character was when he received his comeuppance! Constantly demoralized at every turn, the only hope and brevity Clara finds is in the company of an assumed murderess.

Mary Ann Cotton is based on a real person, so of course, my interest is piqued, and I want to continue to research her. Not only does this novel do her justice (in leaving it open ended as to whether or not Cotton actually committed the crimes she was charged with) , it paints a grim picture of “insanity” in that era, and the role of a woman in both marriage, and society.

Although some parts of the ending in this novel were a bit wide open, leaving some unanswered questions, the proper justice was served. I thoroughly enjoyed Clara’s rise to independence, and even felt a little bit of sympathy for Mary Ann.

“The Savage Instinct” is a realistic and emotional portrayal of mental illness in Victorian England, and the struggles of being a woman. To quote Clara; “I would never understand the terrible brutality that those in authority inflict on women” .
Profile Image for Katie B.
1,349 reviews3,004 followers
May 25, 2021
I don't typically read many books that take place in the 1800s time period but the premise for this one was too intriguing to pass up. The author did a great job with the story and the main character, Clara, was someone who was easy to feel invested in. I'd recommend checking this book out if you are a fan of historical fiction and/or female led plots.

It's 1873 and Clara Blackstone has spent the last year in an asylum for the insane. Needless to say, she is happy to be released and is eager to be reunited with her husband. As she arrives in Durham, England a crowd has gathered to witness Mary Ann Cotton being brought to prison where she will await her murder trial trial. It's alleged she has poisoned almost twenty people, including her husbands and children. As Clara begins to realize her marriage is far from an equal partnership, she becomes more and more fascinated with Mary Ann. Is it a good idea for Clara to visit Mary Ann in prison?

This book falls into the historical fiction genre but most of the story is a product of the author's imagination. Mary Ann Cotton truly was England's first known female serial killer but many of the other characters as well as the plot were made up by the author. The book showed off the author's creativity and I loved how substance was brought to the table as both mental health and women's rights issues were explored in the story.

Clara's situation was frustrating to read about because it plays into the fear of not being in full control of your life. As you read about Clara's struggles, you are angered by the fact that given the time period what she was dealing with was not far-fetched in the least. Part of the appeal of the story for me was in a way it gives a voice to the countless people who were treated so inhumanely back then.

Thank you to Inkshares for providing me with a copy! All thoughts expressed are my honest opinion.
Profile Image for Erin.
3,091 reviews484 followers
June 3, 2021
Thanks to NetGalley and Inkshares for an egalley in exchange for an honest review

 Mary Ann Cotton, she’s dead and she’s rotten. Lying in bed with her eyes wide open. Sing, sing, oh what should I sing? Mary Ann Cotton, she’s tied up with string. Where, where? Up in the air. Selling black puddings, a penny a pair.”

Marjorie DeLuca has written a book that is one of my favourite type of storylines. Victorian period, the wife is in an impossible situation where her husband treats her like a child, and all the men around her just want to put her in an asylum. Take my money, please!

The main protagonist, Clara Blackstone, reminded me of the woman in Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper, both faced trauma from their childbearing experiences yet they are treated like hysterical creatures with no higher intellectual skills. Add to that the tale of Mary Ann Cotton, a notorious serial killer who was found guilty of poisoning her own children and I felt that I just couldn't look away from this one. Such a good tale!

#TheSavageInstinct #NetGalley

Goodreads review published 03/06/21
Publication Date 18/05/21
Profile Image for Brittany (hauntedbycandlelight).
274 reviews70 followers
December 27, 2021
“𝗧𝗮𝗸𝗲 𝗰𝗮𝗿𝗲, 𝗖𝗹𝗮𝗿𝗮, 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝘄𝗮𝘁𝗰𝗵 𝗼𝘂𝘁 𝗳𝗼𝗿 𝘁𝗵𝗼𝘀𝗲 𝘄𝗼𝗹𝘃𝗲𝘀. 𝗙𝗼𝗿 𝘄𝗵𝗲𝗻 𝘁𝗵𝗲𝘆 𝗴𝗲𝘁 𝘁𝗵𝗲𝗶𝗿 𝘁𝗲𝗲𝘁𝗵 𝗶𝗻𝘁𝗼 𝘆𝗼𝘂𝗿 𝗳𝗹𝗲𝘀𝗵, 𝘁𝗵𝗲𝘆’𝗹𝗹 𝘁𝗲𝗮𝗿 𝘆𝗼𝘂 𝘁𝗼 𝗽𝗶𝗲𝗰𝗲𝘀.”

This book was infuriating, and let’s face it… those are the best kinds of books.

Clara was released from Hoxton, a psychiatric asylum, back to her husband Henry. On her way home she catches a glimpse of the famous murderess: Mary Ann Cotton. From here she develops a very strange and intimate relationship with the poisoner.

𝗧𝗛𝗘 𝗦𝗔𝗩𝗔𝗚𝗘 𝗜𝗡𝗦𝗧𝗜𝗡𝗖𝗧 is a historical fiction that focuses on a serial killer who used arsenic to poison her children and numerous husbands.

I actually had no idea who Mary Ann Cotton was, so I was pleasantly surprised.

Now why is this book so infuriating? Henry, you dolt. The view that women cannot exert themselves mentally, or it causes anxiety and emotional instability. The old explanation of the uterus moving around the body, resulting in hysteria… LARGE SIGH.

If you read this, Henry and all his man friends will have you ripping your hair out of your head.

5 ⭐️
Profile Image for Brittany (Britt's Book Blurbs).
688 reviews166 followers
January 16, 2022
Thanks to NetGalley and Inkshares for an eARC of this book. The following review is my honest reflection on the text provided.

From what I can figure out, it looks like The Savage Instinct was originally self-published by DeLuca in 2015 and is being re-released by Inkshares. Now, I read this when the expected publishing date was March 16th but it looks like it's been pushed to May. This just means you have time to let the anticipation build because this is a damn good book.

By no means an easy read, I was at times disgusted, terrified, uncomfortable, or anxious throughout the story. Sometimes these feelings came together in new and interesting ways for even more heightened emotions. No part of this book makes you happy to take a stroll down memory lane to revisit the expectations of women in the 1800s and the horrors brought down upon them when they did not meet these expectations.

As Clara joins her husband in Durham after stints in two asylums, both horrific in their own ways, she undergoes an awakening, thanks in part to her interactions with accused serial killer Mary Ann Cotton. Even before becoming aware of Clara's experiences and more of her background, her husband Henry is an infuriating character. Weak and disagreeable, he seems a poor match for Clara, unable and unwilling to give her the support she needs to find her role in a new town, a new home, and her old marriage. It soon becomes clear that what appears to be clumsy, awkward attempts to help are actually hiding much darker motives.

The dynamic between Clara and Mary Ann is so incredibly interesting. The push and pull between them as they try to befriend each other - revealing and withholding secrets and personal information, not sure how much to trust each other - has left me still questioning truth vs fact. Even though they at first seem so different, they are both haunted women who have lived through terrible life events.

As the story continues, it evolves into a dark race against imprisonment. The memories of the asylum become more prominent, the news stories about Mary Ann's accused crimes become more explicit, and the stakes start skyrocketing. The emotions are so palpable, Clara's growing terror as her future starts to close in on her made me feel physically ill.

If nothing else, The Savage Instinct made me glad I'm alive now and not trying to survive as a woman in the 1800s. There's still a lot that needs to change but at least I don't need to worry about being committed to an asylum if I upset my husband. I would highly recommend this book if suspense and high stakes are your thing but prepare yourself for some graphic atrocities against women and explicit reports of the autopsies performed on Mary Ann's victims (primarily her husbands and children).
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Profile Image for Bandit.
4,604 reviews463 followers
December 29, 2020
There are many different ways that people find fame. Or infamy. Victorian England didn’t exactly lavish the female gender with many opportunities, but Mary Ann Cotton has found her way to the public consciousness (and the gallows) by becoming the first British female serial killer. She was fond of arsenic and generous with distributing it to her numerous spouses and children. With the total victim count somewhere around 21, Cotton easily puts Jack the ripper to shame. But he was never apprehended and thus the mystery endured. Cotton was nabbed, tried and hung, no mystery there. Just a general sort of bewilderment at a severe aberrant psychology that must have been at play.
Then again in the time when women (especially those without means) were no more as chattel to be married off, bought and sold, and lock away when they become inconvenient, is it all that difficult to imagine how someone like Mary Ann Cotton might have been driven to commit her horrific crimes.
Plus serial killers have always held a certain dark fascination for the general public. And so was very much the case for the protagonist of this book, a young woman freshly out of the asylum where she was locked away by her dearly beloved for over a year following getting inconveniently and violently upset over the death of her newborn baby. Now she’s out of one cage and into another, with a controlling thoroughly unplesant dandy holding the keys. With her only ally, her beloved grandmother far away and her newly imposed social circle restricting like a corset, she becomes fascinated with Cotton and begins to visit her in prison.
Those encounters will change her life, the abyss stared at for too long will stare back, she may even grow a spine after all. Courage can be found in the strangest places.
So anyway, originally I was going to say something like…I liked this story so much more the first time around when it was Affinity (including the ever excellent BBC adaptation), but really that wouldn’t be fair. There are certain similarities, for sure, and tragically no sapphic attraction to be found, but this book managed to do enough to distinguish itself as a separate entity. For one thing it uses actual historical facts and events, for another the tone is completely different. And then there’s that excellent and oh so appropriate ending. So overall, it’s actually quite good. A sort of belated coming of age story with feminist undertones. It’s somewhat too strongly at times redolent of women’s fiction, but manages to remain thoroughly readable and entertaining. Fans of historical fiction with darker themes and girl power message should enjoy this one. Thanks Netgalley.
Profile Image for Amanda Hupe.
953 reviews58 followers
May 16, 2021
The Savage Instinct by Marjorie DeLuca was first published in 2015 but has been redone and will rerelease May 18th, 2021! Thank you NetGalley, Marjorie DeLuca, and Inkshares for the opportunity to read this book!

TRIGGER WARNINGS: Rape, Murder, Child-Murder, Child Loss, Pregnancy loss, torture

It is in 1873, England. Clara Blackstone has just been released from an asylum. She was committed after the loss of her baby and the trauma that immediately occurred after the birth. She endured all kinds of torture in the asylum but now she is free and heading home with her husband. On her way home, they come across the arrest of Mary Ann Cotton, a woman who has been accused of poisoning at least 21 people, including children. Clara begins to volunteer at the local prison and meets the serial killer in person. Their conversations make Clara think about her husband’s actions towards her–the drugging, the abuse. Maybe she isn’t really mad? And maybe Cotton isn’t really guilty?

First of all, this book is DARK. Expect to be furious at least 95% of the time while reading this book. The other 5% is just heartbreaking. Honestly, if a man treated me the way Clara’s husband treated her, poisoning would be the least of his worries. The way men have treated women throughout history and even now is absolutely abhorrent. Now, Mary Ann Cotton is really England’s first serial killer. The author casts doubt on her guilt. She had a defense lawyer but no defense witnesses were called. She maintained her innocence until the end. It is possible that she was just the victim of poverty and poor medical facilities of the Victorian Age or she was a prolific serial killer that mainly used arsenic.

The pace of the novel is a little rough in the transitions, and this isn’t the type of novel that is enjoyable. It is terrifying and graphic. However, I did read this book within a few hours. It is captivating and difficult to put down. I rate this book 4 out of 5 stars!
Profile Image for Susan Z.
662 reviews115 followers
July 2, 2021
When I read that this was a book about the England's first suspected female serial killer, Mary Ann Cotton, and the main character's (Clara) obsession with her, I knew I had to have it. I have an odd (weird? concerning?) obsession of my own as it relates to serial killers. Add the fact that Clara was briefly admitted to an insane asylum in the late 1800s, and you have yourself a fascinating eerie tale, that I think would play well on the big screen.

This is such a well written period piece. The writing is superb and transports you in time. We are reminded how far we've come in understanding the mind. How lucky we are to live in a time when mental illness isn't viewed as insanity. And how blessed we are that women are treated as equals.

This powerful quote really stood out "I read somewhere that man is the only animal that devours his own kind. I believe it to be true. We humans are possessed of savage instincts - to protect, to survive, to avenge, but the evil ones amongst us are ferocious predators, deriving pleasure and power not only from the preying on the weak but from destroying them slowly deliberately and cruelly."
Profile Image for The Sassy Bookworm.
3,461 reviews2,357 followers
June 1, 2021
⭐⭐ -- I wanted to like this book more than I did. I just found it a bit on the boring side. I also didn't love Clara as a character or the ending. In fact, the ending very nearly made me throw my tablet across the room. 🤬 However, I enjoyed learning more about Mary Ann Cotton.

**ARC Via NetGalley**
439 reviews42 followers
February 16, 2021
Everybody Contemplates Murder At Some Time In Their Life!

We meet Clara Blackstone at the start of this book when she’s on her way to her grandmother in India who’s dying. Then, the story looks in a flashback to the events in the last 6 months that brought her here. After she suffered a breakdown following a stillbirth her husband locked her up in an asylum, first in the infamous Bedlam and later in a ‘modern’ private one. There, an enlightened doctor released her, much to her husband’s displeasure. He wants a meek and obedient wife that makes his will her own. In Durham she meets her husband’s new friends, the Buckley’s. The wife, Emma gets Clara interested in visiting female prisoners. She befriends the infamous child- and husband-killer Mary Ann Cotton and even becomes obsessed with her. It is a strange and unbalanced friendship where it’s questionable who’s helping and influencing who. In the same period, husband Henry makes it very clear that he wants to get rid of her and lock her up indefinitely.

This is a haunting, chilling and even disturbing story. And, apart from the (not all that) happy ending, all too realistic! So many women were locked up for such devious reasons as that their husbands or fathers were displeased with them. It is simply heart-breaking to know what our foremothers have endured and suffered.

Obviously, there are outdated opinions and social conventions mentioned that are simply infuriating and beyond belief. And we think that our men are paternalistic? Think again! Some of the opinions here are worse than an incel website, and those are gross! Wel, now I know where they originate! I pity every woman of that era. The false picture we get from TV series as ' the Murdock mysteries’ of clever, strong, articulate and even powerful women is so wrong! I’ m a big fan of that series, regardless.

From the first time that I met Henry, I disliked him for being condescending and belittling. Unfortunately, that was but the start of his disgusting antics. He turns out to be the real creep, his friend and tutor Buckley is just as bad. Even at that time, I can’t belief that his behaviour was considered appropriate or he would not try to hide it behind doctor talk and pseudo-science.

This book is very well researched and at the end there is a list of reading material for those who are interested in knowing more about Mary Ann and the evolution of psychiatric treatment in the last 150 years.

The descriptions are very vivid and not for the fainthearted; the inhuman treatment of patients (with or without disorders), the very scene of the hanging and the mindboggling outdated theories are all described very detailed.

I cannot decide whether Mrs. Cotton was guilty or not. Maybe for some of the crimes, but not for all of them. There was a lot of infant mortality at the period and many, if not most, children never reached the age of 5. Even in the 1960’s people still died from arsenic and lead poisoning brought on by wallpaper and lead piping. So, I agree with the author that she did not get a fair trial and was convicted by the media before her trial even started.

The friendship between both women can only exist because Clara feels a connection with her because of her own bad experiences in the asylum. When comparing prison and asylum in this story, I’s choose prison because there you’re released eventually (well most are) while those in an asylum where simply forgotten. There is a big class division between the 2 women and most often it is Mary Ann that gives the better advice. Most of her opinions are more like those we now support. What doesn’t mean that I can agree with murdering children, not even with murdering a bad husband. Although I can understand the murder of some of the latter, it is not for an individual to decide who can live and who not. But if you’re a captive, is it tolerated to kill your jailer?

This is as much a social study of the period as a criticism and I’m certain that the author does not support the nasty onions he writes about.

I received a free ARC from Netgalley and Inkshares and this is my honest, unbiased review of it.
Profile Image for Brenda Marie.
979 reviews35 followers
March 10, 2021
I've noticed a trend towards women speaking their truth in the last dozens of books I've consumed. Or at least more honesty regarding women's lives. This book certainly adds to this theme.
It is a well known fact women were placed in asylums as a way for the men in their life putting them aside- daughters, wives, sisters difficult to control, men lusting after their inheritances, or simply because they felt inferior. Not to overlook the women with mental health issues who genuinely needed help. But let's be real. The health care system has been failing women for generations.
Clara is finally released from an nightmare asylum when a new doctor takes over patient care. She had given birth to a still born baby after a hard labor and several miscarriages. In 1870s England, a woman's duty was marriage and children. Clara was failing - and being punished accordingly.
Upon her return to her husband, who moved them to a new town while in care, Clara struggles to speak, form relationships, to exist while recovering not only from the loss of her child but also months of abuse at the asylum.
Henry is enthralled with his boss, the Dean of Mathematics at his university in Durham. His wife, Emma, is of course the perfect embodiment of womanhood.
Taken under wing, Clara begins the charity work of the Bible to female prisoners, including the notorious poisoner awaiting trial. Mary Ann poisoned husbands and children- allegedly, without discrimination. And her current pregnancy grants her clemency.
Clara's obsession continues to grow as Henry's intention to have her committed yet again becomes clear.
Excellent portrait of women struggling to have just a moment of freedom at any cost.
Profile Image for Amie's Book Reviews.
1,542 reviews166 followers
December 31, 2020
"I became acquainted with madness at the age of twenty-six. During that same year, I met the accused murderer Mary Ann Cotton and learned that the evil ones amongst us are not confined to the filthy alleyways of the poor. They mingle freely in the polished parlours of the middle classes and the gilded ballrooms of the wealthy."

If that first paragraph did not grab your attention, well, maybe you are just a bit mad yourself. 

Set in England in the year 1873, readers learn that Clara Blackstone has spent the past year in one of the many insane asylums that operated in England during those years.

"My baby was limp. I'd strained to pull myself up from the fog of ether to hear its cry above the doctor's mumbling. Silence... They told me it was a stillbirth, but I barely heard them beneath the sound of my own screams."

Clara's mental illness? Well, today we know it as postpartum depression exacerbated by the fact that her baby was stillborn, but in 1873, she was simply labeled as "insane." 

During her year of torturous treatment in the asylum, her husband moved them from London to the city of Durham. It was on her way from the asylum to their new home that their carriage was caught up in a crowd.

The crowd was trying to lay eyes on a woman being led from the courthouse to her transport to the jail. A chant arose:

"Mary Ann Cotton, Mary Ann Cotton.
The rope will break yer neck.
And yer'll be dead and buried and   rotten."

Clara and her husband eventually arrive at their new home and Clara vows to herself that she will never do anything that could result in her being returned to the hell of the asylum.

That day should have been the start of a new life for Clara, but as readers learn, there are things about her husband that arouse Clara's suspicions.

When Clara begins doing charity work at the woman's prison, she is set on a trajectory she could never have seen coming. Readers will not want to put this book down and will find themselves rooting for Clara and possibly even beginning to view multiple murderess Mary Ann Cotton with a dose of sympathy and maybe even a hint of respect.

Along with this wonderful work of historical fiction is a look at the barbaric treatment of "patients" in asylums during that period in history. The author has clearly done her research and exposes many of the horrific "treatments" women were forced to endure. She also includes the fact that many women were shipped off to insane asylums based solely on the testimony of their husbands. So, if a man wanted to take up with a younger woman, all he had to do was say that his wife was hysterical and off the wife went to a life filled with torture and despair. Unfortunately, it is now well known that this happened far too frequently. 

THE SAVAGE INSTINCT is a superb work of historical fiction intertwined with historic facts. Author, Marjorie DeLuca seamlessly weaves her story around the enigmatic figure of the all too real, female serial killer Mary Ann Cotton. I thoroughly enjoyed her take on this historic figure.

Also, the story's protagonist is 100% believable. Clara Blackstone could easily have been a real person. Her imprisonment in two separate insane asylums proved lifealtering (and not in a positive way.) How her husband treats her once she is released shows the attitudes of the time. Mental illness was seen as a personal failing and not an "illness" at all. Unfortunately, many people still view mental health issues that way today.

At a few places in the story, I thought I knew exactly what was going to happen next. Both times I discovered (to my delight) that I was wrong. I love it when a plot does not become predictable.

I rate THE SAVAGE INSTINCT as a solid 5 OUT OF 5 STARS ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ and I will be keeping an eye on this author's future endeavors.

*** Thank you to #NetGalley for providing me with a free copy of #TheSavageInstinct ***
Profile Image for Andi.
1,235 reviews
January 23, 2022
This was my December 2021 Night Worms book!

This one reminded me a lot of Alias Grace. Both were fictional tales that were based on women in history who were on trial / sentenced because of them killing (or may not killing) people.

In this story, you have a female who is getting out of her time in a sanitarium. Come to find out that her admittance into said sanitarium may have not been one of madness. Our main character suffered the loss of a child and instead of bonding with the child they cast it aside and this act caused her to go into a hysterical frenzy.

The author focuses on the fact that women were horribly treated in Victorian times. Any sign of challenging their spouse or enjoyment in reading or other pleasures outside normal Christian / Catholic practices were of question. So, is our main character truly free of her lock-down?

The Alias Grace angle / the woman who may or may not be wrongfully accused is someone that the main character begins to visit / seek out because she is interested if the woman is truly mad or if society has already accused her / chosen her verdict.

It's one of those books where I like that I read it but it's not something I'll read again. Like Alias Grace, it is a sad tale but one that is well written that gives you a sense of anger and fear over the outcome.
Profile Image for Belinda Smith.
53 reviews12 followers
March 12, 2021
Greed, murder and the appalling treatment of women in Victorian England. I was instantly drawn into the parallels of the two women from different backgrounds and their experiences living in an era where psychiatry was often used to mistreat and silence women.

As the book progressed, the life experiences and the fight for survival and freedom of both women took me through a whirlpool of emotions. The Savage Instinct is painful to read, it tears at your gut, as it explores some of the ugliest, selfish behaviour mankind can conceive.

A dark, intense, fast paced historical read with a riveting plot. A must read.
Profile Image for Bianca Rose (Belladonnabooks).
729 reviews66 followers
December 6, 2021
This was a case of reading a book at the perfect time. I was in the biggest mood for reading about serial killers, historical fiction and strong women. The Savage Instinct delivered on all counts.

The story follows two women and their relationship together - Clara, a young woman who has just been released from an asylum to a cruel husband and Mary Ann Cotton, a woman accused of being England’s first female serial killer.

This book hooked me from the beginning and didn’t let me go. What makes this story so chilling is the fact that many of the historical events actually occurred. I had previous knowledge of the horrific treatment of women with mental illness by males but reading this book further shocked and frustrated me. I reflected on what it would have been like to have been a woman with mental health concerns in Victorian England and it chilled me to the bone.

What makes this book the most fascinating though is the fact that Mary Ann Cotton was a real woman accused of poisoning her husbands and children. This story explores the possibility of what if Mary Ann was actually innocent? It leaves a lot of questions up in the air.

There were so many parts of this I loved - the setting, the relationship between both women, the historical aspects, the exploration of mental health and the complexities of violence against women to name just a few.
Profile Image for Stephanie ((Strazzybooks)).
1,013 reviews98 followers
October 3, 2021
“'Never trust a man — most particularly your own husband.'”

This was a random library find, and I’m really glad I read it. It was a heart-wrenching, infuriating, and satisfying tale of how women were controlled with asylums, under the guise of mental health concerns.

“After almost a year in the asylum, I was an expert at fading into the shadows.
At becoming a ghost of a woman.”

The writing was beautiful and the author set the scene of late 19th century England perfectly. The characters were well-developed and memorable.
I will be thinking about this one for awhile.

Highly recommended.

(Trigger warnings for miscarrying/still births, abuse, being institutionalized, etc.)

Profile Image for sara.
102 reviews
March 25, 2021
“I believe it to be true. We humans are possessed of savage instincts -- to protect, to survive, to avenge, but the evil ones amongst us are ferocious predators, deriving pleasure not only from preying on the weak, but from destroying them slowly, deliberately, and cruelly.”

What is this book about?

“England, 1873. Clara Blackstone has just been released after one year in a private asylum for the insane. Clara has two goals: to reunite with her husband, Henry, and to never—ever—return to the asylum. As she enters Durham, Clara finds her carriage surrounded by a mob gathered to witness the imprisonment of Mary Ann Cotton—England’s first female serial killer—accused of poisoning nearly twenty people, including her husbands and children.

Clara soon finds the oppressive confinement of her marriage no less terrifying than the white-tiled walls of Hoxton. And as she grows increasingly suspicious of Henry’s intentions, her fascination with Cotton grows. Soon, Cotton is not just a notorious figure from the headlines, but an unlikely confidante, mentor—and perhaps accomplice—in Clara’s struggle to protect her money, her freedom, and her life.”

My opinions

*minor spoilers ahead*


Clara: Oh my God, I loved her so much. I normally don't like the main characters but I quickly became attached to Clara, the struggles that she went through were very difficult to read about and I rooted for her throughout the entire time. I just wanted the best for her. Her morality can kind of be considered questionable as well as her relationship with Mary Ann Cotton, but I think this makes her even better to read about.

“After almost a year in the asylum, I was an expert at fading into the shadows. At becoming a ghost of a woman.”

Mary Ann Cotton: Now, this is a real person so I would rather not talk about her as much even though she was very important to the story. I don't think she was the villain of the story. Overall she was a creepy character and I wanted her to appear more often.

“Never show your weakness or it'll be the end of you, pet.”

Henry: I hated him so much. He's disgusting, cruel, annoying. Oh, the hate that I have for this man.

“Never trust a man--most particularly your own husband.”

Adeline: Not much better than her Henry, hated her guts. She was just so frustrating to read about.

“For we humans cannot resist the lure of the abyss.”


The first half of the book:

Really enjoyable, felt like the pacing was just a bit slow at times, but I ignored it because I was just so mad and disgusted about what was happening.

The second half of the book:

Not very different from the first, but I enjoyed this half more because it had so much action! It was heartbreaking.

If you like :

-(possible) serial killers
-strong female characters
-late 1800s
-heartbreaking stories
-books about mental health in earlier times
-characters that you're going to loathe
-quick-paced books


Rating: 4/5💫

*many thanks to netgalley and Inkshares for sending me an arc!!*
Profile Image for Kat.
311 reviews179 followers
March 10, 2021
4 stars!!! (re-release on May 18th!!!)

**ARC provided by NetGalley for an honest review.**
#TheSavageInstinct #NetGalley

+ story opens with the MC being released from an insane asylum which gripped me immediately
+ the author did extensive research on the real-life serial-poisoner Mary Anne Cotton's life, alleged crimes, and trial, and her take on the events is pretty open to interpretation, which I liked
+ examination of women's role in the home, in the bed, and in the society of 1800s England (spoiler alert: the "roles" are bullshit and the "cures" are DARK)
+ learned so much about different "medical treatments" done to women who have "womb-related illnesses" (such as being distraught after a stillbirth or not wanting to sleep with their husbands)
+ I hated Henry (the MC's husband) more than any character of recent memory because he not only put her in the asylum but then was like why won't you sleep with me? Then threatened to put her back in the asylum if she didn't warm up??? The point WAS to hate him and it worked. I loathe Henry.

/ dual storyline between the present and past which surprisingly didn't bother me (it usually does)

- not enough people I hated got their comeuppance
- some repetitive plot points that I wished had been done differently

TW: involuntary stay in an insane asylum, cold douche shock treatment, drugging, incitement to suicide, suicidal thoughts, poisoning of children and adults, death by hanging, medical examination, asylum life, physical violence, stillbirth, loss of a baby, attempted rape
Profile Image for Stacy40pages.
1,375 reviews134 followers
January 19, 2021
Savage Instinct by Marjorie DeLuca. Thanks to @inkshares and @netgalley for the e-Arc ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Clara is released from the mental asylum after an episode following a tragic child loss. As she tries to cope with new life, she becomes stifled by her controlling husband. She finds some comfort in prison charity work where she creates a bond with the first female serial killer, Mary Ann Cotton.

Wow, what a story. I stayed up late reading this one and had a difficult time sleeping after because the events kept swirling in my head. I’ll be thinking of this one for a while. The author sure knows how to build the excitement. It was driving me crazy! Every time the main character became safe, something would happen and she’d be imprisoned again. Her escape was a long process of back and forth, which really build the anticipation. This story made me glad to be a woman born in today’s world. It was very hard to read about the lack of rights women had and the terrible conditions they were exposed to, often times just because their husband wanted rid of them. I loved reading of Mary Ann Cotton, and of course had to go to a wiki bend afterwards. This was such an exciting and important read.

“If freedom means rebelling against all constraints, I felt the first stirrings of it when I met Mary Ann Cotton.”

“Never show your fear, for you know in all the fairy tales the fierce wolves always sniff out the gentle ladies”

The Savage Instinct comes out 3/16.
Profile Image for Karen.
74 reviews9 followers
February 6, 2021
This book had me hooked from the very beginning! The unlikely friendship between two seemingly quite different women that had in common the unfairness of being a female in a world that viewed them as mere breeding stock.
Profile Image for Natasha Van Duser.
118 reviews290 followers
January 11, 2022
This read like Silence of the Lambs reinterpreted during the time of Pride and Prejudice without any of the depth and characterization that make Clarice or Hannibal deeply intriguing characters. Clara (note the name similarity) may be the most one-dimensional and gullible female lead I’ve ever read about, and our Dr. Lecter, Mary Ann Cotton, who murdered 11 children in real life, gets painted as a sympathetic role model who has a god-like intuition found conveniently only in novels.

The plot is simple: Clara’s husband is evil, though we don’t know why. He continues to be evil. Clara does nothing and acts as passively as possible, with no character growth until the last page, and then the novel ends. But don’t worry, the author will gladly blatantly tell you when scenes are “ironic” and when situations are cruel and unfair. She will make sure that you are told everything that you can already easily deduce, and then remind you again of her exact point several chapters later.

“Show, don’t tell” is a phrase for a reason, and this book told me everything one too many times.
Profile Image for Raechel.
478 reviews27 followers
January 11, 2022
Edit: I was in a rush to throw down a quick review but I've come back to try to organize my thoughts better.

Maybe literature in a Victorian setting just isn't my thing. I didn't like this, I didn't like The Valancourt Book of ​Victorian Christmas Ghost Stories: Volume Five, and I didn't like Fingersmith. I thought this book was way too heavy-handed with the misogyny, everyone in the book was an idiot, and there was also zero tension.

The book primarily takes place during Clara's return home from being away at an asylum after the stillbirth of her baby and she has a mental break from the trauma. She's eventually given permission to leave and her husband takes her to their new home in a small town. Her husband, and many of the other men in her life, are ridiculously evil (like rubbing their hands together and laughing about how they're going to ), yet she still keeps trusting them and being shocked when she overhears them loudly discussing their dastardly plan when they know she's in the same house.

Every few chapters we get a flash-forward set 6 months in the future of the book's plot, which tells us . So this KILLS any kind of tension we may have had about how the book will end. It also gives the plot a real stuttering feeling because there are MULTIPLE instances of Clara but because we KNOW this is not how things turn out in 6 months, it's just filler.

Also it turns out Henry (her husband) is just... a mama's boy? And it's a WOMAN who was the true evil behind it all??? Meanwhile most of the men are just two-dimensional misogynists who can only talk about how women know nothing and it's up to them to protect them (by urging them to or .

Clara is so dumb and naive and is easily manipulated by men and women alike, but is surprised every time and every time vows she won't fall for it again and/or she will control herself for 24 hours before making a great escape... then immediately screwing it up in the stupidest way possible in the first 20 minutes.

Then, we're just supposed to believe she turns stone cold at the veryyyyy end of this book as she casually . What?
Profile Image for Bruna (bruandthebooks).
264 reviews86 followers
April 1, 2021
Do you know the story of Mary Ann Cotton?

She was England’s first female serial killer and her story is very interesting! I first heard about her when I read a true crime book called Lady Killers.

Forty years before Jack the Ripper and three times the number of deaths laid at her feet.

Mary Ann poisoned her three husbands and countless children (estimated 18), including babies. It’s not certain the number of pregnancies she had, nor how many of her children were poisoned, nor how many were killed by natural causes.

This is a fiction book based on Mary Ann’s story. The year is 1873 and Clara Blackstone is finally being released from the asylum where she spent the last year. After giving birth to a dead baby, Clara was, of course, traumatized.

Her husband, Henry, thought she had lost her mind and decided to lock her in an asylum.
When she goes back home she sees a crowd in the village. A suspected murderer is going to jail, accused of killing her husband and children. Clara locks eyes with Mary Ann Cotton and for some reason, she becomes obsessed with her.

She volunteers to pray with prisoners so she can get close to Mary Ann. The more she talks to her, the more she becomes fascinated.

Meanwhile, Clara starts questioning her own marriage. Her husband locked her in an asylum, he’s cheating on her, and now he’s giving her medicine so she becomes more “docile.” The more she talks to Mary Ann, the more she realizes her husband has only one plan for Clara: to lock her in the asylum forever and get all of her inheritance.

But would she be able to murder her husband?

“How was it that a murderer understood me better than anyone else in the world?”

This book was SO good. Well written, and it’s very clear that the author performed a lot of research for this book. Highly recommend it.
Profile Image for Milou.
367 reviews6 followers
February 1, 2021
CW: Clara is abused, drugged and raped by her husband. There are some suggestion to and descriptions of self harm and child abuse. There is a very descriptive miscarriage. The ‘treatments’ Clara is subjected to in the asylum can definitely been seen as torture.

I wanted to request less books through Netgalley, but I couldn’t let this one go. And I am so glad I didn’t, because I loved it. So much so that I read its 380 pages in a single sitting.

We follow Clara who after having a stillbirth is put into an asylum by her husband. We start the story a year later when she is released (against her husband’s wishes), and moves to Durham to let the fresh air restore her. At the same time Mary Ann Cotton is admitted to prison awaiting her trial, pregnant. Clara is fascinated by this woman. Why can she not have children, but is Mary Ann blessed with another pregnancy even though she is said to have poisoned her children. Clara joins a charity to visit the women in prison to get closer to Mary Ann. What develops is a strange friendship as they give each other strength to deal with the unfair trail of Mary Ann, and the abusive husband of Clara.

The writing in this book is absolutely stunning. It isn’t overly flowery or poetic, but still beautiful and very capable of painting the picture. It completely sucks you in and makes you feel all the feels. The way the ending has been interwoven into the story in the form of interludes is done very cleverly. We know how it is going to end, yet don’t know why. In this way the author has managed to keep the intrigue going to the very last page, yet also still manages to put in a surprising and very satisfying twist. Yes, I did finish this book at 3 in the morning…

You form a very strong connection to Clara early on in the book. I definitely felt her frustration, loneliness and desperation. I wanted to kill her husband myself, or at least give him a good kick in the nuts. He is such a despicable person, yet far from alone in his views. He genuinely believed that what he did was his right as a man, and society keeps confirming this for him. It is saddening that this book reads like a thriller, yet these things did happen.

Mary Ann isn’t the villain we think she will be at the start of the book. She does stay an intimidating person that keeps you slightly uncomfortable, but the author does also show other sides of her, and her past, making the reader at least understand some of her motivation. It is left to the reader to decide for themselves if she was guilty or not, so be aware of that if that is something you find annoying.

So yeah, I loved this book. It gives a nice commentary on what ‘evil’ is, whilst dragging you into an utterly compelling story that makes you feel all the feels. Highly recommend!
Profile Image for Tasha.
56 reviews2 followers
February 5, 2021
This was a bit outside the box for me. The synopsis really intrigued me and I’m glad I got to read a copy. I liked the setting, the time period and gloomy feel of the book. I imagined Durham with grey skies, a lot of old, cathedral like buildings, and sinister characters. I couldn’t help but feel everyone had an agenda back then. I wouldn’t have trusted anyone. Clara’s past was devastating to read about. All of the character’s stories from the asylum were. It was most interesting though, the connection that she and Mary Ann Cotton formed. You could almost sympathize with what made her do the evil things she had done- or did she? The sensationalism of her case and the reactions of the people, the hunger with which they seek revenge even if it wasn’t personal, isn’t so different from today, unfortunately. The scheming had me on the edge of my seat and the horrific things that happened in asylums and within marriages back then turned my stomach. Barbaric. This was well written and I would read more from the author. I thank Netgalley and Inkshares publishing for an ARC copy of the book.
Profile Image for That Library Ghost.
36 reviews11 followers
December 19, 2021
I've always been drawn to the horrific subject of Victorian psychiatry, and the subjugation of women from that time period. These stories are just so chilling and infuriating. Even if the stories are fiction, like this one, there's STILL truth based in historical fact. Its monstrous.

On that, I felt The Savage Instinct was wonderful! The pain and hopelessness of women like Clara, and what that desperation can do was intense. I only feel SLIGHTLY bad when at the end I was rooting for Clara doing what she felt might have to be done.

I really liked the book, and very much need more content like this in my life!
Profile Image for  Afreen  Khalil Inscribed Inklings.
681 reviews38 followers
February 13, 2021
Savage instinct by Marjorie DeLuca, M. M. DeLuca 📚

Trigger warning: Poisoning, Torture, Violence

Did you know that in the Victorian era women had absolutely no rights? Whenever men had a problem with women, they claimed they had hysteria and locked them up in asylums. Women were considered weak, temperamental and easily triggered. They were expected to be docile and homely. Once they were married, they relinquished their body, mind and money to their husband. If they wanted to get a divorce, they needed substantial proof that their husband was physical being cruel to them. Whereas, it was so easy for the husband to get a divorce.

One such woman stuck in a really bad marraige is the main character of this story. Clara gives birth to a still born child and the nurse just throws her child into a bin without letting her hold the baby. She loses herself and ends up injuring the nurse. She is subsequently sent off to live in an asylum for the next year. She goes through unspeakable horrors in the name of treatment. Until one new kind doctor releases her.

She comes back and her husband Henry is not the same. She senses a change in him. She also starts visiting the women' s prison to guide their Christian souls and repent for their sins. Here, she meets one of the most notorious women serial killers of England, Mary Ann Cotton. They both form a weird bond and she learns that in this world women have no power unless they take charge. Will she succumb to her husband's tortures? Or will she find a way out? Read to find out!

I found the book very interesting but i was not a fan of the writing style. It was too descriptive and lengthy. There were too many unnecessary paragraphs. I would definitely recommend the book to thriller and women's fiction lovers.

Read it / Skip it- My verdict- READ📖

Rating- ⭐⭐⭐✨

Profile Image for Fizah(Books tales by me).
642 reviews59 followers
June 4, 2021
Thanks to Bookstagrammers and Author for this e-ARC.

"I became acquainted with madness at the age of twenty-six."

Above mentioned is the first line of this book and needless to say it instantly hooked me. The book is set in 1873, England. Clara Blackstone spent last year in a private asylum after she gave birth to a stillbirth child and men around her took her grief as insanity. Clara doesn't want anything except reuniting with her husband, Henry. After living in London moving to Durham is a fresh start. Just after entering Durham, she got the chance to see Mary Ann Cotton who is a serial killer and killed 21 people, including husbands and children, by poisoning. Clara, instantly, found that society doesn't give married women many rights and most men doesn't miss the chance to take advantage of it. The irony is that in the whole world Clara formed a bond with Mary Ann who understands her situation more than anyone.

It is not an easy book to read but that doesn't make it boring or bad. I felt an instant connection with Clara and throughout the book, I was so angry with all the people who wronged Clara. I felt helpless for Clara and wanted to punch in face of all of these men. Mary Ann was a real person and the author woven a story about her life and the impact of her crimes. I didn't know about Mary Ann before reading this book so I wasn't biased. I liked the mystery around her character. The relation between Mary Ann and Clara was so strange yet soothing.

This story was dark and heartbreaking and portrayed injustice. Though the whole story was so fascinated that I kept thinking about it even when I wasn't reading it. I would totally recommend it to anyone who wants to read dark-historical fiction-thriller.

It can easily trigger weak hearted people as details were graphic at many places.
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