Tuesday, February 19, 2013

book review: The Midwife's Tale by Sam Thomas

The basics: Set in 1644 York, when the city is under siege, The Midwife's Tale focuses on midwife Bridget Hodgson. When Bridget's friend Esther Cooper is accused of murdering her husband (an act of treason at the time), Bridget sets out to solve the mystery of who really killed Mr. Cooper.

My thoughts: I'm oddly fascinated by the history of medicine. I suppose I'm fascinated by medicine today as well, particularly the tension between tradition and change. I tend to favor all natural, homeopathic methods, but I also recognize the limitations of those methods. I want to believe the earth offers us the tools to heal all of the ailments it creates, but ultimately I think modern inventions and natural traditions are both worthy. All of this excursis is to say: midwifery in the 1600's is bizarre, awesome and utterly fascinating. I was immediately struck by how midwifes must treat unmarried pregnant women:
"If she doesn't name the father, the city will have to support the child for years to come," I explained as gently as I could. "The law forbids me to help her so long as she refuses." 
Much of this novel's success hinges on Lady Bridget. Thomas has created a strong, independent female character who is not an anachronism to her time. She has been widowed twice and lost both of her children to death. She is wealthy, yet she works as a midwife and believes in her work. She's feisty, yet traditional. She shows signs of bending class divisions, but ultimately she upholds them. She acknowledges some examples of sexism, but she's unaware of many others. Lady Bridget is our window into both the politically tumultuous time and the murder mystery. She carries both off, and perhaps most surprisingly, I completely bought her as a sleuth. As a midwife, Bridget has unique access to so many in York. For a crime like this one, sexism prevented justice, thus Bridget is the logical option to pick up the pieces after the investigators jumped to what they saw as the only logical conclusion.

Favorite passage: "Bacca was right: Papists have their priests for confession--we Protestants are not so fortunate. We must confess to each other, or live and die with the burden of our sins."

The verdict: The Midwife's Tale is both a fascinating work of a historical fiction and a compelling mystery. The political warfare of York in 1644 provides the perfect backdrop for the events in this novel. Lady Bridget is a dynamic character, and I look forward to her next adventures (a sequel is in the works.)

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 320 pages
Publication date: January 8, 2013
Source: purchased

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Midwife's Tale from the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle version.)

Want more? Check out Sam Thomas's website. It includes information on the history of midwifery and the real-life Bridget Hodgson, including her bizarrely fascinating will.

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!


  1. You obviously enjoyed this one. I am not a fan of the time period so I think that is what is keeping me from reading this one.

    1. Ti, I had no strong impression of the time, but I found myself totally drawn into the world. My initial issue was the cover, which I hate it. But after reading so many rave reviews, I bought it for my Kindle and loved it.

  2. Am TOTALLY in love with books on midwifery, and the further back they're set, the better! This one is definitely on my WANT and MUST HAVE IT lists.

  3. I loved this book, and thought that it was not only inventive, but really unique. I loved Lady Bridget, and like you mentioned, I could totally believe her as a sleuth. I am so glad that you loved this one!! Very perceptive review today!

    1. Zibilee, I'm glad you loved this one too! I cannot wait for the sequel!

  4. I'm actually sort of fascinated by medicine too as well as birthing babies and all the traditions around that. This book does sound really good!


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