Summary and book reviews of The Midwife's Tale by Sam Thomas

The Midwife's Tale

by Sam Thomas

The Midwife's Tale by Sam Thomas X
The Midwife's Tale by Sam Thomas
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2013, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Dec 2013, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Donna Chavez
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About this Book

Book Summary

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.

Chapter 1

On the night I delivered Mercy Harris of a bastard child, the King's soldiers burned the city's suburbs and fell back within its walls to await the rebel assault.

It was evening when the Overseer of the Poor arrived to summon me to the birth and my servant, Hannah, ushered him into the parlor.

"Lady Hodgson," he said when I joined him, "I am sorry to bother you on such a terrible day, but one of the parish's maidservants is in travail with a bastard. The churchwardens have sent me for a midwife."

"What parish are you from?" I asked. I knew he was not from St. Helen's, and most parishes handled their own bastard births.

"St. Savior's, my lady."

"Surely you have midwives in St. Savior's."

"They are unwilling to venture out, what with the fires, the smoke, and so many soldiers running about. They think it too dangerous."

I shook my head in despair—some women did not know the meaning of an oath. "I will come. What is the mother's name?"

"Mercy ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Bridget is wealthy enough that she doesn't practice midwifery for the money. Why do you think she does it?
  2. Why did Bridget allow Martha to stay in her household, even after she lied about her past?
  3. What similarities and differences do you see between Bridget and her rival, Rebecca Hooke?
  4. Write down one word or phrase to describe Bridget, Martha, and Rebecca Hooke. Then go around the group and read your words aloud. How many different words did you come up with for each character? Once you have done this, elaborate on the complexities, or lack of complexities, of these individuals.
  5. How do you think the loss of her children affected Bridget?
  6. Despite clear evidence of her guilt, Bridget agrees to help Esther. Why?
  7. How did Bridget&...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The sights, the sounds, the aura of midwifery and the city of York in the midst of rebellion resonate as if part of a chorus that thrums behind the tune of Thomas's charming mystery. The only flaw in this otherwise consonant novel is that we know so little of the characters' backstories. I am hoping there will be more from Thomas and the machinations of the team of Lady Bridget Hodgson and her servant, Martha Hawkins.   (Reviewed by Donna Chavez).

Full Review (658 words).

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Media Reviews

Cleveland Plain Dealer
Thomas' York teems with filthy streets and bawdy wine-soaked revelries. But nothing is more drenched in bloody, breathing realism than Bridget's life, and career. . . . Thomas does an admirable job keeping all of these balls aloft. He concludes with a satisfying twist that few readers will see coming. But as pleasurable as his mystery is, the true thrill here is Thomas' lively portrait of 1644 York and his unique heroine.

Kirkus Reviews
Historian Thomas' fiction debut is packed with fascinating information about a midwife's skills and life during the English civil war. The ingenious, fast-paced mystery is a bonus.

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Everything rings true in historian Thomas's superb first mystery, set in 1644 during the English civil war...Authentic details of life in 17th-century York complement the whodunit's intelligently concealed clues.

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Beyond the Book

Midwifery

Midwives at Nativity sceneHieroglyphics and even cave drawings testify to the fact that from time immemorial women in the throes of bringing forth the next generation have been tended by other women - either trained in the art of delivery or not. From the book of Genesis when Rachel's midwife predicted that she would bear a son (35-17) to Exodus where midwifery was endorsed by no less than God himself (1-20) midwives have enjoyed the privilege of great power. Albeit in a womanly way. What some might call stealth rebellion. Indeed it was midwives who virtually saved the Hebrew nation when they stood up to the Pharaoh's command to kill the Hebrews' newborn sons. So it can be said that Sam Thomas's Bridget Hodgson comes by her uppity disposition naturally.

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