I am delighted to share my review today for The Hemlock Cure by Joanne Burn. This is set in 1665 in and around the village of Eyam, a wonderful historical fiction read.
My huge thanks to Little Brown UK for granting my request to read and review an e-copy of this book.
It is 1665 and the women of Eyam keep many secrets.
Isabel Frith, the village midwife, walks a dangerous line with her herbs and remedies. There are men in the village who speak of witchcraft, and Isabel has a past to hide. So she tells nobody her fears about Wulfric, the pious, reclusive apothecary.
Mae, Wulfric’s youngest daughter, dreads her father’s rage if he discovers what she keeps from him. Like her feelings for Rafe, Isabel’s ward, or the fact that she studies from Wulfric’s books at night.
But others have secrets too. Secrets darker than any of them could have imagined.
When Mae makes a horrifying discovery, Isabel is the only person she can turn to. But helping Mae will place them both in unimaginable peril.
And meanwhile, another danger is on its way from London. One that threatens to engulf them all . . .
Based on the real history of an English village during the Great Plague, The Hemlock Cure is an utterly beguiling tale of fear and ambition, betrayal, self-sacrifice and the unbreakable bond between two women.
The village of Eyam is a village I know from history lessons at school. Also known as “The Plague Village”, it is in Derbyshire and pronounced “eem”. It is nestled in the gorgeous Peak District National Park. The village is known as the Plague Village due to the Plague or Black Death that swept through Europe in 1665/66. If you are not aware of how the village tried to manage the plague in their village please have an internet search.
Eyam is such a village that is hearing of the plague that is starting to sweep through the country. Wulfric is the village apothecary and with the help of his daughter, they make the medicines to help those who are ailing. This is a time when it is a male dispensing cure is a respected profession, not so much if you are a female though. Wulfric’s daughter Mae knows she has to be careful when she starts to prepare her own recipes, her father would never have such a thing happen under his roof.
This story is one of a daughter trying to do the very best she can, but her father will never praise her, look proudly at her. In fact, he is just downright awful to her, he has no respect for women and thinks they are all evil. Mae’s mother is dead, and it is a close friend that keeps an eye out for Mae, something that makes Wulfric angry.
The story is set around the village of Eyam and the author has used actual events woven into her fictional story. The story wanders around Mae’s home and surrounding area and also in London. It shows the different ways people are trying to void the plague and also how devastating its reach is.
This is a slower-paced story and one that I did find engaging. It also flits between different characters and times, this threw me initially. I don’t always read headings and this was a bit of a downfall for me as not only are there several characters voices, they are also in slightly different years. Doing this means that the author adds nuggets of information from a few previous years to her current timeline.
This is a historical fiction story that does have mentions of real people and a brief mention after the story does go into more detail about this. There is also a good bibliography for further reading. I did enjoy this story as there is a mystery to it as well as the dynamics within Mae’s family and the village. I would happily recommend this one.
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