Book Tour Review: The Midwife's Tale by Sam Thomas

Wednesday, January 9, 2013
Title: The Midwife's Tale
Author: Sam Thomas
Genre: historical fiction, mystery
Series: N/A
Pages: 308 (ARC edition)
Published: January 8, 2013
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
Rating: 3.75/5

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.

Sam Thomas is a historian with a talent for the fictional side of writing, which is much to the benefit of his first novel, The Midwife's Tale. With a clever plot that will keep readers guessing about the culprit until the end, and with a keen eye for the details of the period, this is a book that will keep its audience more than entertained until the last page turns. Politics, misogyny, murder, history, revenge and love all collide to picture a time of civil unrest and personal uncertainty under the author's skilled pen. In the midst of a town under siege, in the middle of a war between England's King and it's Parliament, midwife Bridget Hodgson tirelessly works her trade for the better of all she knows. A novel that manages to keep the mystery element on par with the abundance of detailed information and period particulars, The Midwife's Tale is a worthwhile entry into the historical fiction mystery subgenre.  

Bridget is a complicated woman, and Thomas takes care to showcase many aspects of her personality. I did feel that some of the side characters were occasionally flat or one-dimensional in how they were presented during the narrative (particularly the minor antagonist of Tom), but I never got that feeling with main character Bridget. She has a past full of grief (that is slowly revealed to the readers and her story progresses), a stalwart and admirable dedication to her chosen profession, an ironclad sense of who she is and what she does, as well as refusing to be put in her place as a woman. I loved reading Bridget - she's feisty and smart and not afraid to get rough with others if she has to, and as she demonstrates more than once. No wallflower, Bridget faces life head-on and ready for whatever it - or anyone else - throws at her. Rather than enjoy life a wealthy widow, Bridget is the most talented and formidable midwife York has to offer. Her connections, amongst politicians, wives, gossip help to foster her investigative endeavors as well as flesh out the several minor subplots the novel contains. Her story felt natural despite its fantastical twists and turns, which makes sense as the author mentions in his interesting note at the end, her character was based on a real York midwife of the same name.

As much as I enjoyed Bridget, Sam Thomas is at his best with describing the setting and the details it takes it create a vivid, real sense of place. The Midwife's Tale is without a doubt deftly written, as is Bridget, I was always excited to see what else Thomas would reveal about York, or about the role of a midwife in that time period. I personally hadn't read much about 1640's England (I tend to stick the the War of the Roses - Tudor dynasty in my reads), but this was a welcome introduction to a tumultuous and vastly interesting period for the English. The politics angle of the plot was well-handled; introduced neatly and so someone without a background in the area could grasp the subtle interchanges and what they meant for either side, it added an extra layer of tension to the goings-on, both for Bridget's investigation and for its more violent representation in the battle for York outside the walls.

Fast-paced, engaging, and featuring a mystery with enough missteps and red herrings to keep the outcome a surprise until the grand reveal, there's a lot to enjoy about Sam Thomas's first foray into the historical and mystery genres. I can only hope the small hints of further investigation featuring Bridget and her Joan-of-all-trades servant Martha will result in at least one sequel featuring these two feisty women. Fans of historical fiction should pick this up for a fast, engaging read with a complex protagonist with a headstrong mind of her own.


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  1. Thanks for the review and the giveaway. I've been reading historical fiction my whole life but nothing specifically about midwives. Sounds like a well-written book, I'll be looking forward to it.

  2. I got interested in the subject a few years ago when a friend of mine went into midwifery as a second career. It's quite the coming thing now. though I think they are more frequently referred to as Doualas. Thanks again.

  3. I'm a huge historical fiction fan but have been drifting away from the genre more and more. I think the only book about midwifes that I've ever read was this kids book I owned The Midwife's Apprentice by Karen Cushman, it was really cute though. haha (From what I remember). This one sounds really interesting though I'm definitely going to have to check it out. Great review, Jessie! :)

  4. I haven't read any historical fiction about midwives, but I've read historical fiction featuring midwives. There is one book in particular where there is a brutal midwife and all the women in the village fear giving birth because of it. Along comes a young lady from another clan (of course, it's about the scottish folk) and she teaches that labor is hard, but not as brutal as this midwife has made it to be.
    It's quite a good book... if I could only remember the name...

    Thanks for the giveaway! It's great!
    Love that book cover as well...

  5. I enjoy storylines with a historical background.

    cenya2 at hotmail dot com


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