The Invincible Miss Cust

A Novel

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Pub Date 04 Oct 2022 | Archive Date 08 Oct 2022
SOURCEBOOKS Landmark | Sourcebooks Landmark


"In a world where women are relegated to needlepoint and parlor chairs, Aleen sets her sights on barns and veterinary surgery. Her journey to become the impossible is inspiring, heartwarming, and ultimately triumphant.” —Lisa Wingate, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Book of Lost Friends

“I loved The Invincible Miss Cust. What a remarkable woman—and what an enthralling story!” —Janet Skeslien Charles, New York Times bestselling author of The Paris Library

Must-read historical fiction for fans of Marie Benedict and Tracey Enerson Wood, based on the real life of Britain'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.

More Praise for The Invincible Miss Cust:

“The Invincible Miss Cust is an absolute delight, an exceptional, immersive work of historical fiction set amid the beautifully detailed landscapes of Ireland and England.” —Jennifer Chiaverini, New York Times bestselling author of Switchboard Soldiers

"A skillfully told story of an extraordinary woman's grit, determination, and devotion to her dream. Detailed and evocative, The Invincible Miss Cust is an engrossing read." —Shana Abé, New York Times bestselling author of The Second Mrs. Astor

"I loved this gripping and inspirational book! Her courage and independence of spirit shine through on every beautifully-written page as she faces life’s triumphs and tragedies." —Fiona Valpy, bestselling author of The Dressmaker’s Gift

"An amazing story! Haw’s descriptive prose and deft characterizations lead us through Cust’s remarkable life, setbacks and triumphs, and leaves us in awe of her perseverance, determination, and loyalty." —Katherine Reay, bestselling author of The London House and The Printed Letter Bookshop

"In a world where women are relegated to needlepoint and parlor chairs, Aleen sets her sights on barns and veterinary surgery. Her journey to become the impossible is inspiring, heartwarming, and...

Available Editions

EDITION Paperback
ISBN 9781728257709
PRICE £12.99 (GBP)

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Average rating from 58 members

Featured Reviews

Thank you to NetGalley for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review. Aleen Cust is the precocious middle child of an aristocratic British family. In her younger years, she lived in Ireland where she loved to be outside with the animals, riding horses and caring for her dogs. But when her father dies unexpectedly, her family is forced to move back to England where her life changes drastically. Soon she is expected to be ladylike and to prepare for her presentation to the queen and entrance into society where her family expects her to find a suitable man to marry. But Aleen has other plans. She wants to become a veterinarian, even if none of the schools accept women and the profession won't give them their certification. With the help of her guardian, Major Fitz, and the encouragement of her friend, Dorothy, who has similar views of the role and expectations of women, she is eventually able to go to school and train to be a vet. It is an uphill battle that is met with strenuous resistance from her family who not only disown her but may have also actively sabotaged her efforts to be recognized by the professional organization of veterinarians. Through it all, Aleen not only perseveres but excels. As already noted, there is family drama and some romance but for the most part this is a story about Aleen and her animals. The stories of Aleen working with the livestock on Irish farms definitely have a James Herriot feel to them and reminded me of the beloved books from the All Creatures Great and Small series. Aleen was a remarkable woman who did not compromise on her desire to be a contributing member of society by caring for the creatures essential to society's survival. I read this book in an afternoon and would highly recommend it to anyone who loves animals, strong female characters and family dramas.

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The Invincible Miss Cust reimagines the story of Aleen Cust, the first woman veterinary surgeon of Britain and Ireland.

19th century. Aleen is born in Ireland to an aristocratic English family. Growing up with brothers, she notices the experiences and opportunities that her brother have, but they are denied to her. From childhood, she loves horses, adventure, and competition. When she learns about such position as veterinary surgeon, it becomes her dream. But that is not to be, she is told. That would be a disgrace to family.

When her family returns to England, she gets embraced by family whose daughter shares the same passions as Aleen. The difference is her friend is allowed to go hunting and do the training as a nurse. Aleen’s eyes open to a different world where opportunities for women are possible.

The compromise is for Aleen to become a nurse, but she quickly discovers that nursing is not for her. She prefers countryside to stifling city hospital walls. And she resents the stiff relationship between doctors and nurses.

When she is about to give up her dream, an opportunity opens up.

In the first part of the story, we get to know Aleen and her family. What it takes for her to break through the walls of her family and to follow her dream. Once the dream is possible, she is against other walls. The man’s world, where she is not welcomed among her fellow students. Some accuse her of being a disgrace. Others ridicule her for being at the wrong place. But as it turns out, the biggest obstacles are still ahead of her.

The character of Aleen is interestingly explored. Her taking a professional position in man’s world isn’t an easy path. And there are other challenges. Coming from a privileged family, it most likely isn’t easy for her to transition to very simple lodgings with a privy in the backyard. The loneliness she feels, because her family ostracizes her. Accusing her of being selfish and causing them shame.

The story is vividly presented, with scenes of her childhood, school years, and professional life, while tending to animals and trying to save them. It is a story of a woman who breaks many conventions, not only with her professional life, but later also with her private life. It is a fascinating portrayal of one’s life who stands against challenges, but when the right people come along to give her a hand, she grabs the opportunity. Her family is against her, but there are some who support her and encourage her to fight for her dream.

With sophisticated prose and fascinating storytelling, the passion of one’s woman comes to life.

Review originally posted at

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I thoroughly enjoyed this wonderful book.
Miss Cust is a woman ahead of her time.
She knew what she wanted and went after it despite the difficulties in her path.
I greatly admired her because she a spunk.
Her childhood was interesting too.
I loved learning about the veterinary world and what goes with it. Just wow! A lot goes into this particular subject and the author has done her research well!
I didn't like the predijuces from the men too well. The other thing I didn't care for was the slow start it had. I almost didn't finish but now I'm glad I did!
The thing I loved most was that it was told from Aleen's point of view.
I somehow can connect to her better that way.
The second thing I loved most was the horses of course!
The Veterinary courses were so very interesting! I felt like I was in college myself!
5 stars for a job well done and for keeping my attention all the way through.
I highly recommend!
My Thanks for a copy of this book. I was NOT required to write a positive review. All opinions are my own.

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I read this book before it’s release thanks to NetGalley and I could not put it down!

Aleen Cust wants more than is expected of her as an aristocratic lady. She wants to ride horses and care for animals and learn about her world. But as her family often reminds her, that’s not ladylike, and might reflect poorly on the Queen, her mother’s employer.

But that doesn’t stop her. Instead she decides to do everything she can to become the first female veterinary surgeon. Can she make it happen even with her family sabotaging her, classmates ridiculing her, and the RCVS refusing to accredit her?

This book releases November 2022 and I can’t wait for you to pick up a copy!

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Do you have any 'idea what it is to want to do something with your life and yet be forbidden simply because of your gender'? As the 19th Century draws to a close, so too have many women's expectations of only becoming a wife and mother. Increasingly, women sought higher education and fought, not only for the right to vote, but demanded the door be opened to previously solely masculine careers.

'The Invincible Miss Cust', follows the life of a girl who dared to dream of becoming a veterinary surgeon; unbeknownst to her, the first female vet in England. As a girl, Aleen always felt a kinship with animals and a sensitivity to their distress; she simply wants to spend her life caring for them. Aleen's mother and older brother are absolutely horrified at the notion. They make it clear that they'll disown her if she brings such shame on the family. Despite at times giving way to despair and hopelessness, nothing will diminish the single-minded goal of becoming an officially registered vet.

Life, love, and loss augment the details of Aleen's struggle to gain professional certification and fulfill her dream. Penny Haw delivers a historical engrossing account of a passionate, pioneer who, along with others during this time, helped pave the way towards equality between sexes. Throughout, Haw daubs her descriptions of the surrounding landscape and conditions to paint a vibrant picture that not only draws the reader in but makes them believe in the story of Miss Cust.

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Aleen Cust is disowned by her family when she proceeds with following her dream to become a veterinarian surgeon. And further challenges by her male peers at the school. Once being at the top of her class and then the refusal to accept her by the veterinary board, she proceeds to gain the confidence of the community as she heals their animals.

I didn’t know much about the book when I requested from NetGalley. I think it very fitting to have recently finished James Herriot’s All Things Wise and Wonderful … and also after reading In The Shadow of A Queen by Heather B. Moore (pending release Oct 2022) which also includes (I believe the same ) Dorothy Grey as a supporting character.

I was not familiar with Penny Haw’s writing. I always love when NetGalley introduces me to new authors. Thank you NetGalley! For the opportunity to review the advance read copy (ARC) of the Invincible Miss Cust in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to Penny Haw and Sourcebooks Landmark Paperback for approving my request for the ARC.

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We meet Aleen as a child living in Ireland, where she develops her love of animals. I love books that are based on the lives of real people, and the author does a wonderful job of bringing her life alive.
Aleen is a determined and smart young lady when she makes up her mind, and she sure doesn't change it, to become a Veterinary Surgeon, and does she turn heads yes, she is a Lady and they are not to enter into a man's world.
Her life's journey is not an easy one, but this girl does not take "no" for an answer. We are there for her success and giving, and also the curves that life throws her, including her family.
A woman who in the end carves a path for others, and as we walk in her shoes, it is not an easy path, but we are there as she forges ahead.
I really enjoyed this read and will look for more by Penny Haw!
I received this book through Net Galley and the Publisher Sourcebooks Landmark, and was not required to give a positive review.

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