The "remarkable creatures" here could refer to the first discoveries in the early 19th century, of the fossil remains of extinct creatures, the Ichthyosaur and the Plesiosaur, which set the scientific and religious communities on their ears. Or it could refer to the two remarkable women, whose friendship helped them to thrive and survive in an age when women had no public voice and no recognition beyond motherhood. As Jane Austen so ably depicted, unmarried women, particularly in the upper classes, were a burden to their families. At least lower class women could become servants, laundresses, etc. and eke out a living. 10-year-old Mary Anning, the daughter of a poor cabinet maker and amateur fossil collector, helps to support her family by scouring the beaches and cliffs of Lyme Regis for "curies" which are sold in the family shop. Elizabeth Philpot, at age 30 and still unmarried, has been settled in Lyme Regis by her brother who cannot afford her upkeep in London. In that out of the way location, Elizabeth is able to pursue an interest in science and fossils. Because of her class, she is not really free to hunt for fossils on her own, but relies on Mary to find them for her. I loved how the two women learned and grew through each other. Elizabeth is envious of Mary's "freedom", while Mary is constrained by poverty. Elizabeth has the connections to bring Mary's discoveries to the world, but she needs a bit of Mary's boldness to step outside of the constraints of being a woman in a man's world. It is remarkable that Mary Anning's name is still remembered at all. I also loved learning about the early days of fossil hunting and seeing how these discoveries forced people to reassess the world and their place in the scheme of things, a reassessment that paved the way for Charles Darwin and his theories of evolution.
The story is told in alternating points of view by each woman. I listened to the audiobook which was narrated by two different women. This really helped to bring out the cultural differences between the two women, and made me feel as if I were "there" hearing about the events and relationships through their eyes.
Description: On the windswept, fossil-strewn beaches of the English coast, poor and uneducated Mary Anning learns that she has a unique gift: "the eye" to spot fossils no one else can see. When she uncovers an unusual fossilized skeleton in the cliffs near her home, she sets the religious community on edge, the townspeople to gossip, and the scientific world alight. After enduring bitter cold, thunderstorms, and landslips, her challenges only grow when she falls in love with an impossible man.
Mary soon finds an unlikely champion in prickly Elizabeth Philpot, a middle-class spinster who shares her passion for scouring the beaches. Their relationship strikes a delicate balance between fierce loyalty, mutual appreciation, and barely suppressed envy, but ultimately turns out to be their greatest asset.