Monday, January 28, 2013

Review: "The Midwife's Tale" by Sam Thomas

Synopsis:  In the tradition of Arianna Franklin and C. J. Sansom comes Samuel Thomas’s remarkable debut, The Midwife’s Tale.

It is 1644, and Parliament’s armies have risen against the King and laid siege to the city of York. Even as the city suffers at the rebels’ hands, midwife Bridget Hodgson becomes embroiled in a different sort of rebellion. One of Bridget’s friends, Esther Cooper, has been convicted of murdering her husband and sentenced to be burnt alive. Convinced that her friend is innocent, Bridget sets out to find the real killer.

Bridget joins forces with Martha Hawkins, a servant who’s far more skilled with a knife than any respectable woman ought to be. To save Esther from the stake, they must dodge rebel artillery, confront a murderous figure from Martha’s past, and capture a brutal killer who will stop at nothing to cover his tracks. The investigation takes Bridget and Martha from the homes of the city’s most powerful families to the alleyways of its poorest neighborhoods. As they delve into the life of Esther’s murdered husband, they discover that his ostentatious Puritanism hid a deeply sinister secret life, and that far too often tyranny and treason go hand in hand.

My Thoughts:  This book was so good!  I think the topic of midwifery is so fascinating and combined with a fun mystery, it made for really great read.  I think Britain's early modern era was such an interesting time and I think this book does a wonderful job of portraying the different facets of the period.

Lady Bridget Hodgson is an awesome female lead character.  Considering the time, it was neat to see such a strong, independent and intelligent woman as the main character in this story.  I really liked her and I think she really made the story great.  Another character I really liked was Martha.  It made me giggle every time she picked a lock or got kind of sassy with one of Bridget's visitors.  She just made for a really fun sidekick for Bridget in both trying to solve the mystery and in dealing with Bridget's duties as a midwife.  I don't know very much about the role of the midwife in this era but after reading this book, I definitely want to learn more.  It seemed like midwives played such an important role in the lives of women, both rich and poor and that really intrigued me.   I also thought it interesting that a lot of the story surrounded women who had to learn to survive and be independent because they couldn't count on the men in their life.  Bridget was a widow but much was made of how useless her husband was and there was another female character who had to deal with a similar situation.  There was also much made of the dynamic between female servants and their masters.  I think the author did a good job of showing how powerless female servants were; their masters really had full control over them and their bodies and could use them however they wanted.  This created an interesting dichotomy in the story between women who had power and women who didn't.

In addition to having great characters, this story had a really good mystery side to it.  Bridget tries to find out who murdered her friend's husband and there were so many different possibilities for who the murderer was.  This led to many twists and turns that kept me on the edge of my seat.  I couldn't put the book down because there was something new every time I turned the page.  I honestly had no clue who the killer would turn out to be and I was completely surprised by the plot twist that led to that discovery.  I love when a story can shock me like that!

Overall, this book had it all: great characters, an intriguing mystery and an interesting historical side.  I will definitely be looking forward to reading more of Mr. Thomas' books in the future.  4 1/2 stars. 

About the Author:

Sam Thomas is an assistant professor of history at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. He has received research grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Newberry Library, and the British Academy. He has published articles on topics ranging from early modern Britain to colonial Africa. Thomas lives in Alabama with his wife and two children.

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