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.
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 despairsome women did not know the meaning of an oath. "I will come. What is the mother's name?"
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).
Hieroglyphics 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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