Mae lives alone with her father, the village pharmacist, in the English town of Eyam after her mother and sister Leah both died. Mae’s father Wulfric is strict and doesn’t know that his daughter is secretly visiting Isabel, the village midwife. Isabel was Mae’s mother’s best friend and does not trust Wulfric at all. She has even been branded a witch by him. And then the plague threatens to come to Eyam…
This book is set in 1655 – 1665 during the last major plague epidemic in England. There are three narrative perspectives. One during the epidemic, the diary of Wulfric and short flashbacks from the narrator, Leah.
While the premise really triggered my interest, I found the story a bit all over the place. Leah’s odd perspective had little added value and there are a lot of plot lines that are only slowly dealt with. By the middle of the book, it all feels blended into each other and you have no clue to where we’re going.
The story revolves around Mae and Isabel, two women with an interest in medicine and then the word witch is quickly outed in the 17th century. But we also get to know Isabel’s husband Johan’s backstory. He goes to London where he observes the consequences of the plague epidemic. And then there is Rafe, who lives with Isabel and Johan and whom Mae takes an interest in.
Burn has based her story on real historical events in the small town of Eyam. The villagers prevent an outbreak of the plague in the neighboring towns by a brave decision. The author adds a whole cast of fictional characters to this setting. Her writing style is certainly ok. But this is just a story that won’t stick. It lacked focus, emotion and originality. I feel that I’ve read this story before.
Too bad, because there were enough things to like in this story that could have been worked out better to create a gripping read. And that cover is just beautiful, I must admit that.
Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for a copy of this book in return for my honest opinion.
What’s your favourite book set in the 17th century?
2 thoughts on “The hemlock cure by Joanne Burn”
That’s disappointing. 😦 As you started to describe the book, I thought it’d be one I would definitely be interested in reading but it sounds a little too scattered for my tastes. Thanks as always for your review and thoughts!
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Yeah, the premise was nice but that’s all about it, I’m afraid.