Genre: Historical Age Range: Adult Star Rating: 5 stars Series: standalone CW: miscarriage
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 . . .
Blurb taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.
THE DANCE TREE is a stunning historical novel set in early sixteenth-century Strasbourg, but did we expect anything else from Kiran Millwood Hargrave?
Like THE MERCIES, THE DANCE TREE is a story about ordinary medieval women caught up in sweeping events that start seemingly naturally (or unnaturally/supernaturally) but are then used by men to control, punish, and “put women in their place.” It is a feminist look at power and abuse and the lives of people often overlooked by history.
After hating Absalom Cornet in THE MERCIES, we have another despicable man with too much power – and I thought Kiran Millwood Hargrave was going to struggle to get a more slimy-toad-of-a-villain who had frustratingly too much power. But no, enter Plater, who I wanted to be bumped off from his first introduction. KMH writes such human villains, which makes them all the more powerful and terrible powers in the books.
I should mention, not all the men are awful in this book. The male characters are as nuanced as the women, with all shades of “yes, I like you, you are a nice person” through to “plain awful,” but she does seem to craft really effective male villains. The book also features prominent queer characters and isn’t all-white.
It is also a book about grief and hope and pain. Lisbet is pregnant – has been before many times, but has miscarried each. The book explores the pain she feels for that, the painful hope and unwillingness to hope over the current pregnancy, and also the stigma attached to miscarriage.
All this is gorgeously written, the prose feeling like it has a melody of its own. Care has really been taken over getting the book to flow, mimicking the dancing – and it does get more frenetic as the story goes on and the danger increases.
The majority of the book is written from the perspective of Lisbet, but there are short chapters scattered throughout from a variety of dancers’ perspectives. They are tiny little glances into the lives of those caught up in the dancing from all walks of life and experiences. I really liked how it showed another glimpse into the lives of ordinary women who are so often forgotten from the histories.
Two more adult books by Kiran Millwood Hargrave have been announced, which is very exciting – and both sound incredible.
Read my reviews of other books by Kiran Millwood Hargrave: