Book Review by Debbie Winkler
It is 1644 and Parliament’s armies have risen against King Charles I. The rebels currently lay siege to the city of York, the home of Lady Bridget Hodgson, a midwife. Bridget continues to deliver babies and look after her new mothers while praying for a quick resolution to the conflict. When one of her friends, Esther Cooper, is convicted of murdering her husband, Bridget must act quickly to prevent Esther from burning at the stake. Bridget joins forces with her mysterious new maid, Martha Hawkins, and tracks down clues through the city – clues that lead to a conspiracy amongst the most powerful in regards to the new balance of power.
I always a good historical mystery and loved The Midwife’s Tale! Lady Bridget Hodgson is based on a real person (as I learned in the author’s epilogue) and it was absolutely delightful to read about this volatile period through her eyes. Bridget has been twice widowed and her children passed away when they were young. She is beautiful, still young enough to bear more children and is quite wealthy so she doesn’t lack for suitors, but Bridget enjoys her independence too much to wed again. Instead, Bridget focuses on her duties as a midwife, which are varied and grant her a great deal of power for a woman in the 1600s. Not only does a midwife deliver babies, but she ferrets out the information about parentage to ensure that children are supported financially. The midwife uses coercion, force or fear to persuade unwed mothers to name the father of their babe. If they refuse, they will not help with the labor or delivery, which is too terrifying to go through alone! The midwife also has a group of women, called gossips, who help out in the different households. They pass information along about all members of society, both high and low, and I think their husbands would be shocked and dismayed to realize how observant most of these women are! There are few secrets in the town of York and Bridget seems to be involved in uncovering the few that remain. I loved learning about the midwives and found it fascinating to learn about the treatments and methods used in this time period.
Bridget is a strong female character, as is her maid, Martha. I was delighted to see that Bridget’s fiercest rival is another female, but I was a little less delighted to see how thick-headed most of the men of the time seemed. I don’t know if it was because the information was coming from Bridget or because the author felt that men of the time really were that stupid, but most male characters were not credited with much intelligence. Bridget’s brother-in-law was the exception, but I wish that there could have been a better balance. Surely there would be at least a few enlightened males in the town of York who realized that women also possessed a brain, right? Surprisingly enough, this comes from a male author who should surely know better! Most of the men in the book are boorish, loutish and would-be-rapists simply waiting for an opportunity – I would never walk the streets alone! Will, who is the most sympathetic male character and Bridget’s nephew, was born with a clubfoot so he is a bit more sensitive than most of the males of his time, though he, too, needed a swift kick in the pants from time to time!
The Midwife’s Tale is engagingly written and was a real page turner. I was engrossed in the mystery, though it really wasn’t that complicated. The book jacket makes it sound like the book’s sole focus is the murder of Esther’s husband, but there are so many other subplots going on that I found myself getting distracted and focusing on babies dying in childbirth, christening ceremonies, the murder of an infant boy, and much more. Ultimately, when the main mystery was solved, I found myself a bit disappointed. Not that I can condone murder, but the victims deserved death in this case and it seems like they met a fated end. I was heartbroken to discover the identity of the murderer and was not at all pleased that they were caught. It seems like Bridget had a warm, forgiving heart for many, but could be cold as stone to those she felt must pay for their sins.
The Midwife’s Tale is a fascinating glimpse into the past that will be sure to delight any who enjoy a good mystery. Modern readers will be horrified to learn about the pitiful conditions of most servants during this time period and will have a better understanding of why people clung to their faith. It is unreal to read about women being charged with treason because they rose up against their master or husband! I loved the historical details and appreciate that the author modernized the dialogue and writing just enough to enable the reader to easily understand the story. I am astonished to learn that this is Sam Thomas’s first book and will look forward with anticipation to more books written by this talented new author.
This book contains multiple scenes of death, including babies. Some bodies are described in more detail than others. There are multiple descriptions of labor and delivery, though nothing too explicit. Life was pretty filthy back then so be prepared for dirty streets, chamberpots and reeking privies. There are multiple scenes of attempted rape and several stories of rape. Chauvinism and other prejudices are portrayed in a historically accurate manner. There is some strong language. There are several scenes of drinking and drunkenness. Recommended for ages 16 and up.