THE HEMLOCK CURE
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 that she studies from Wulfric's forbidden 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 unspeakable peril.
And meanwhile another danger is on its way from London. One that threatens to engulf them all . . .
MY REVIEW ***
Using the setting of Eyam in the 1600s is a great idea and one that has been used before in novels because of its rich and important history. Not only does The Hemlock Cure touch on the bubonic plague, (which Eyam famously locked themselves down to stop the spread of), there is also the theme of witchcraft in the novel as well. It was these two themes that drew me into requesting the book in the first place although I admit to being a little disappointed with how they were used. The plague element very much just becomes a side element to the main plot. There is no real sense of danger or tension built on if or when characters will get sick. Having lived through an outbreak, even with all the medical strengths of the modern day I found this to be quite unrealistic. I also found it a little disappointing that the plague didn’t really impact any of the main circle of characters. A few of them got sick but then they all survived which seemed like an odd choice. The plague wiped out about 1/3 – ½ of the village (depending on which account you read) so this seemed a bit far-fetched to me. A death of one of the main characters would have had more of an impact.
The witchcraft aspect also felt a little under-used. I liked how the main character has synaesthesia and how this was linked into the idea of witchcraft. I also liked how some of the narration was using Wulfric’s diary entries and how unhinged he sounded in his quest to rid witchcraft from the village. There was a big deal made of eaglestones at one point though without much explanation of what they were.
The writing style is engaging and easy to read throughout which is a refreshing change to some historical fiction stories I have read. I particularly liked the device of having the events narrated through the main character’s dead sister which was an unusual choice. It worked well though and we got a good amount of exposition about the main character Mae without it feeling like too much of an info-dump.
A big issue for me was that the story did feel like it dragged a lot in places - with a ruthless edit quite a few pages could have easily been cut out. I personally didn’t really understand why the Jacques & Johan in London storyline was included. This did nothing to further the plot and I found myself frustrated when we kept going back to it. I also think the plot itself is very simple – not much happens and the conclusion for the main storyline is something that could easily be guessed, either from the name of the book or from the setting of the story. I think it did need more padding to make a more interesting plot, but I would have focussed more on the plague or witchcraft elements rather than smaller side-characters.
Overall, The Hemlock Cure is a well-written and researched book, however with its simplistic plot and unnecessary padding it did feel like it dragged in places. Thank you to NetGalley & Little Brown Book Group UK – Sphere for the chance to read the ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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