Thursday, January 24, 2013

Book Review: The Midwife's Tale by Sam Thomas


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.

Minotaur Books | January 8, 2013 | 320 pgs

My Review

4.5 Stars

Set in the Northern English city of York at the height of its siege by rebel forces during the Civil War, Sam Thomas' debut novel, The Midwife's Tale, is an intriguing mystery that engages the reader right from the outset.  At the centre of this novel is Lady Bridget Hogdson, one of York's most trusted midwives.   Although York is suffering under the siege, Bridget continues to go about her business delivering babies and comforting new mothers.  When one of her friends is convicted of murdering her husband, Bridget, who believes her friend innocent, joins forces with her servant Martha in an effort to find the real killer.  But Bridget's quest for the truth puts her into direct conflict with some of York's most powerful citizens, thus putting her own life in danger.  Refusing to be intimidated, Bridget and Martha continue their investigation of the murder.   Will they solve the mystery before it is too late? 

Full of rich historical detail that vividly recreates life in 1644 York, The Midwife's Tale is a must read for fans of not only historical mysteries, but of historical fiction in general.  Through Bridget the reader learns of the customs and rules associated with 17th century childbirth, which included the rule that midwives could not deliver babies unless the father was named, and the custom that childbirth was a social occasion, with pregnant women surrounding themselves with their 'gossips' during labour.   The novel also showcases the reality of life in a town under siege, as well as highlights the political dynamics of a city where the sympathies of its inhabitants are divided between the rebel and monarchist camps.  The mystery itself is enthralling, taking Bridget and Martha all across York as they pursue a number of different leads, and leaving the reader guessing at the final outcome right until the very end.  Portrayed as intelligent, strong and independent, Bridget is an ideal heroine, as is the ever resourceful Martha.   The supporting characters, whether they be heroes or villains, are also well-developed and intriguing.

Well-written, with fascinating characters, a narrative that creates a strong sense of both time and place, and a plot that keeps the reader turning the pages, The Midwife's Tale is a novel not to be missed.  

Note: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Check out the other reviews for this novel by clicking here to see the tour schedule.  

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.

You can visit Sam's website at: