The Hemlock Cure by Joanne Burn
A glitteringly dark historical novel of love, persecution, and survival set against the backdrop of one of history’s most terrifying episodes: the Bubonic Plague.
It is 1665 and the women of Eyam village keep many secrets. Especially Isabel and Mae.
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 the pious, reclusive apothecary, on whom she is keeping a watchful eye.
Mae, the apothecary’s youngest daughter, dreads her father’s rage if he discovers what she keeps from him: her feelings for Rafe, Isabel’s ward, or the fact that she studies from her father’s 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 unimaginable peril. Meanwhile another danger is on its way from London. One that threatens to engulf them all. . .
I found this book whilst browsing in Toppings and Company whilst in Bath a couple of months ago. I had never come across Joanne Burn before but seeing this book on display I was attracted by the title and the blurb and decided to give the book a read. I am so pleased I decided to read this book because I absolutely loved it.
This book is based on true events that happened during the plague in 1666. The village of Eyam quarantined itself in an attempt to stop the plague spreading. They sacrificed their own lives to try and save others. Certain characters within this book are also based on real characters from the village as well.
I must admit to begin with I was a little confused with who was telling the story but I soon worked out the different voices and thought it was really cleverly done. I won’t say any more about the different narrators because I don’t want to spoil it for people.
Mae is a confused young girl who lives in fear of her father but at the same time desperately wants to prove to her father that she is worthy of his pride and can be useful to him. To escape her rather tense life at home she visits her friend Isabel who is the village midwife and whose family welcomes Mae as one of their own. At Isabel’s she feels loved and welcome and of course there is also Rafe who is the ward of Isabel and her husband. Mae has feelings for Rafe but due to her age she is confused and can’t quite make sense of these feelings.
This book is full of secrets. Mae has secrets she keeps from her father, Isabel has secrets she keeps from public view and Wulfric has secrets he only tells his diary and God. The whole village is full of secrets and as the story progresses we begin to see glimpses of these secrets and what they mean for the characters.
The book is beautifully written and I will be honest I couldn’t put it down. The book kept me on tenterhooks all the way through and I loved every page. It is probably one of my favourite reads for 2022. I will be definitely reading Joanne Burn’s first novel and any further books. I give this book 5 out of 5 Dragons.
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About the author
Joanne Burn was born in Northampton in 1973, and now lives in the Peak District where she works as a writing coach. Her first novel, Petals and Stones, was published in 2018. The Hemlock Cure is her second novel.