The novelty of a female bare-knuckle fighter ensures her notoriety in the Black Country, but she dreams of greater glory and an escape from poverty. Prolonged, literally blow-by-blow descriptions of bouts become repetitive, although Annie is a lively, appealing character and there is plenty more to enjoy in Kitson’s narrative.
Featherweight transports the reader to the tough, rapidly industrialising world of the 19th-century Black Country, with its old canals and new railways, the soot of the forges and strikes at the nail factories, via lushly detailed, rhythmical descriptions. “The furnace … made the sky orange all night and fat sparks danced up in the steam and curled and fell like they was the shed leaves of a white-hot tree.”
Kitson’s black-and-white, heroes-and-villains plotting is predictable, although Featherweight remains a gleeful, page-flipping read. Fights are breathlessly paced, if not rendered so grittily as to put off the queasier readers out there. It all adds up to a rollicking tale, one you’ll be glad to take a ringside seat for.