In Strasbourg, in the boiling hot summer of 1518, a plague strikes the women of the city. First it is just one – a lone figure, dancing in the main square – but she is joined by more and more and the city authorities declare an emergency. Musicians will be brought in. The devil will be danced out of these women.
Just beyond the city’s limits, pregnant Lisbet lives with her mother-in-law and husband, tending the bees that are their livelihood. Her best friend Ida visits regularly and Lisbet is so looking forward to sharing life and motherhood with her. And then, just as the first woman begins to dance in the city, Lisbet’s sister-in-law Nethe returns from six years’ penance in the mountains for an unknown crime. No one – not even Ida – will tell Lisbet what Nethe did all those years ago, and Nethe herself will not speak a word about it.
It is the beginning of a few weeks that will change everything for Lisbet – her understanding of what it is to love and be loved, and her determination to survive at all costs for the baby she is carrying. Lisbet and Nethe and Ida soon find themselves pushing at the boundaries of their existence – but they’re dancing to a dangerous tune.
Why don’t I pick up more historical fiction when I almost ALWAYS love it?! This was beautiful, incredible and devastating!
Millwood Hargrave’s writing is magnificent. The time and place of the setting is described so vividly, you can feel yourself there experiencing the heat and claustrophobia Lisbet feels. There are so many themes explored throughout; religion, superstition, patriarchy, homophobia, racism, love, child loss, pain, and more. All were explored intensely but delicately, with each theme blending and winding together as the story progresses.
As much as I love historical fiction, sometimes I find it a bit heavy and hard to binge read, however I was enamoured by this story and found I couldn’t put it down. For a book about a spreading plague, it feels pretty fitting that I ended up reading this in a feverish frenzy, desperate to find out how Lisbet’s story would conclude. By the end, this one had absolutely torn me to shreds.
I will be first in line to buy whatever Millwood Hargrave writes next. This story was compelling, painful and quietly beautiful. Despite all the anguish and pain, this book finds joy in unexpected connections and the quieter, simpler moments in life.
Ad-pr product from Picador Books. Publishing May 12th 2022!