Friday, April 26, 2013

Review: The Midwife's Revolt by Jodi Daynard

 Title: The Midwife's Revolt
Author: Jodi Daynard
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Oppossum Press
Released: January 1, 2013
Pages: 213

Rating - 7 out of 10

Despite my interest in the topic, it's been a very, very long time since I've read a Revolutionary War book, so I was very excited to read this one.

Here in Daynard's first novel, we meet Lizzie Boylston, midwife and owner of a small Massachusetts farm. The story follows her through the death of her husband in the Battle of Bunker Hill, her close friendship with Abigail Adams, the highs and lows of her medical work, espionage, and her struggles through the war years in general.

Even though I got through this book in just two sittings, I wouldn't call it a fast read. It is more one to be savored with some tea, snuggled up in bed. I can see how some readers may be put off by the pacing, and while I agree that some of the more slower portions of the book could have been omitted, I never felt bored or disinterested in the story.
Also, the second half of the book picked up a bit, complete with poisoning, a murder mystery, more than one mysterious suitor, and espionage.

I enjoyed the character of Lizzie, strong and thoroughly independent while still remaining a woman of her time, rather than a 21st Century girl taped into a historical setting.
As a child, Lizzie requested that her father provide her a tutor, which, more in carelessness than love, he did. She learned Greek and Latin, developed a fondness for Shakespeare, and became learned in medicine. Everyone in the story is aware of her intelligence, but she lives in a world where it is generally viewed as a strike against her rather than one in her favor. Sad, but triumphant Lizzie rises above this thinking.
Her development as a character was well written, and I especially thought that the way she handled her grief over her husband's death was marvelously realistic, allowing us to catch glimpses of all the things that made her come alive as a character - her flaws and best qualities.
Besides her new life as a widow, Lizzie's life is far from easy. She obviously longs for a family, she is at first shunned as a possible witch in her community, her farm does not exactly prosper, and she goes through multiple times of near starvation and sickness. In one hopeless instance she tells us "At times we felt as if God were on the other side."

Another thing that drew me to this book was the involvement of Abigail Adams. Abigail's unabashed honesty, clear-headedness, and tough love make for a great friendship between her and Lizzie. I love John and Abigail Adams, and from the other things that I have read about her, this seems a good re-imagining of what she may have been like with her closest confidantes.

Another thing that I greatly appreciated about this book was that it truly seemed set during the Revolutionary War.
This is clearly a book for readers of historical fiction, by a fan of the genre. There are dashes of old fashioned words through-out the book, though not enough to seem forced. Daynard isn't afraid to use words such as "breast" or "gay" with their original meanings attached (and no, neither have anything to do with sexuality). Two women share a bed because that is what women of the time did, with no gratuitous lesbian undertones attached. There are also fainting spells, fancily worded scenes, and some melodramatic speeches. At times, it strongly reminded me of a book of the period - and to do that successfully is to be applauded.

Overall, a lovely book that really takes you back in time.

Thanks to Opossum Press and for providing me with an advance review copy of this book.