Eyam, Derbyshire 1665
The plague is raging in London and will soon be headed towards this once safe rural setting. The villagers will decide to make the ultimate sacrifice, isolating themselves to prevent its spread to other communities, but, as the novel opens, several of them are hiding dark pasts, hidden truths, and terrible secrets, which are revealed as events unfold.
Isabel Frith, is the midwife, walking a dangerous line with her herbal cures and remedies, which are seen by some as witchcraft.
The apothecary, Wulfric, is a widower. A man of great religious faith and violent rages, whose antipathy to Isabel knows no bounds, and not only because of professional jealousy.
Mae, his youngest daughter, is desperate to learn his trade and has a real gift for it, but because she is girl he will not permit it. She lives in fear of her father’s angry and violent outbursts, secretly studies his books at night, and during the day attempts to understand her growing feelings for Rafe, (Isabel’s ward), and come to terms with Sam, her father’s apprentice, acquiring the training she longs for.
Johan is Isabel’s husband and against all good judgement, he heads off to London to support his best friend, whilst the plague is at its height.
When Mae makes a horrifying discovery, Isabel is the only person she can turn to. But helping Mae places them both in terrible danger….
The Hemlock Cure is based on real historical fact, although the novel’s main characters are themselves fictitious. Its sense of place and setting is outstanding and is clearly based on extensive historical research and local knowledge, which makes the novel come alive and feel extremely convincing. When you are reading it, you feel as if you are right there, in the centre of it all.
It’s a brilliant read, and on the strength of this second novel from Jennifer Burn, I would definitely read more of her work. ****
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