Title: The Midwife’s Revolt
Author: Jodi Daynard
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Format: E-Book, 427 Pages
Genres: Historical Fiction, Historical Mystery, Historical Thriller, Historical Women’s Fiction
Price: $4.99 [Kindle | KindleUnlimited], $22.90 [Audible], $14.95 [Barnes and Noble Paperback], $9.99/$14.99 [Barnes and Noble Audiobook], $25.99 [Apple Books Audiobook]
On a dark night in 1775, Lizzie Boylston is awakened by the sound of cannons. From a hill south of Boston, she watches as fires burn in Charlestown, in a battle that she soon discovers has claimed her husband’s life.
Alone in a new town, Lizzie grieves privately but takes comfort in her deepening friendship with Abigail Adams. Soon, word spreads of Lizzie’s extraordinary midwifery and healing skills, and she begins to channel her grief into caring for those who need her. But when two traveling patriots are poisoned, Lizzie finds herself with far more complicated matters on her hands—she suspects a political plot intended to harm Abigail and her family. Determined to uncover the truth, Lizzie becomes entangled in a conspiracy that could not only destroy her livelihood—and her chance at finding love again—but also lead to the downfall of a new nation.
The year is 1775 and war, akin to a great conflagration, has set the American Colonies ablaze. For the preceding years, King George III was tightening his hold on the 13 Colonies, and the situation between colonist and loyalist became increasingly tense. The situation was quite literally a ticking time bomb about to go off. With the passing of the Coercive Acts, as it was know in Great Britain (Intolerable Acts – as known in the Colonies), many colonists felt that their rights were being stripped away by a governing body that was determined to punish them for the Boston Tea Party. The eighteenth century man was concerned with the denial of liberty (including but not limited to: a violation of constitutional rights, natural rights, and colonial charters) and it is likely that he or his ancestors left for the New World with no other view but freedom.
The Revolutionary War breaks out in April of 1775, after the legendary flight of Paul Revere who announces to all, “The British are coming! The British are coming!” The first battles of the Revolutionary War are the Battles of Lexington and Concord which take place on April 19th and it is the American Colonies who win. During this time, it is a dangerous place for the average citizen, who is torn between loyalty to Great Britain and loyalty to the 13 Colonies. There are spies everywhere and one never quite knows who to trust.
At this time in history, women play a profound role in the American Revolution. With famous women colonial women such as Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, Betsy Ross, Mercy Warren, Phillis Wheatley, and Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley [Molly Pitcher], women played a part in the ongoing war. Betsy Ross is famous for sewing the first American flag, Martha Washington was wife of George Washington and was known for her courage during a difficult time, Abigail Adams is forever remembered because of her witty letters to hew beloved husband John Adams, Phillis Wheatley — the first African American poet and perhaps one of the most iconic colonial women, Mercy Warren was a playwright who gave fantastic firsthand accounts of the Revolutionary War, and Molly Pitcher is revered for her zeal in delivering water to the Continental Army soldiers during the Battle of Monmouth in 1778.
Seventeen seventy-five also saw the invention of the Watt Steam Engine by James Watt [a precursor Industrial Revolution], Captain James Cook discovered two islands which came under the governance of Great Britain, Catherine the Great still ruled Russian Empire, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart composed a plethora of concertos, the Second Continental Congress took place, George Washington was appointed commander-in-chief of the fledgling government, and a Continental Navy was established.
Lizzie Boylston, our heroine stands on the threshold of her home as she watches her husband, Jeb, depart for war. There is a sense of foreboding that seems to plague her about her husband leaving, especially during a difficult time. She wants to stop him from going but knows that she is powerless to do so. Before the battle takes place, Lizzie officially meets her husband’s relative, Abigail Adams as well as her children, a balm on a most painful wound. Abigail is a very down-to-earth, sensible woman who appears to be the rock for everyone in the community, Lizzie especially.
The Midwife’s Revolt opens in the year 1818, when an elderly Lizzie Boylston reflects back upon her life. Her long time friend and confidante, Abigail Adams is sick and it appears that she doesn’t have long. Lizzie tends to her friend and while she does so, she reflects upon the past, how she met Abigail, their enduring friendship, and the war that raged around them.
When the Battle of Bunker Hill occurs, those from her community gather to witness the fighting that is taking place. Despite the mayhem and the chaos that ensue, Lizzie borrows a horse with a man’s saddle and hastens to the Continental Army camp to see Jeb. It takes a while but she finally discovers her husband who has died in the battle. Lizzie is bereft, desperate for any memory or any item to remind her of Jeb.
In the weeks that follow, Lizzie takes in a young woman, Martha Miller, who functions as a servant as well as a companion. Martha is a quiescent and secretive young woman, who seems suspicious in more ways than one. Presented to her as a staunch loyalist, Lizzie begins to suspect that Martha may be a spy for the British. She seems to take the young woman into her home not merely as a means of alleviating her sorrow but also as a means of charity. This is when a rhythm sets into the book, involving two women who work the Boylston farmstead with a renewed vigor, seeing to the animals as well as the crops.
Lizzie’s primary job in the village of Braintree is as midwife and healer whenever a doctor was not present. It is no secret that she comes from a loyalist family, therefore, many of the locals do not trust her and some even whisper that she practices witchcraft. Through time, constancy, and patience, Lizzie seems to win the village over. In exchange for her duties as midwife, she is given food and various other items that are essential in a time of war.
Through Martha we meet her older brother, Thomas Miller, a young man who is every bit as suspicious as his relation. There is something about him that Lizzie can’t quite put her finger on. While he isn’t incredibly attractive, there is something about Thomas that Lizzie cannot help but be dazzled by. She runs into him not only in Braintree but in Cambridge, when she goes to visit her old homestead in the city. More and more she happens upon Thomas, who seems to be hanging out in loyalist locations, appearing to be more suspicious than ever.
When Lizzie and Martha are not working the farm, they often times visit Abigail Adams, Mr. and Mrs. Cranch, and Colonel and Mrs. Quincy. Through this circle of friends, both women are rejuvenated by society and it is where Lizzie begins to suspect Martha. Through this group however, Lizzie meets new people such as the handsome Mr. Cleverly, the gray-haired Dr. Flynt, and the solemn-faced Mr. Thayer. While Mr. Cleverly, the one who is touted as a true American patriot, begins to court Lizzie, it seems that she has no interest in him whatsoever. It is clear that there is very little chemistry there.
One day, however, it appears that two of the newcomers, Dr. Flynt and Mr. Thayer have been found dead. Upon closer examination, Lizzie finds out that the men have been murdered intentionally by the application of belladonna. It is then that she really begins to suspect the others around her: Mr. Cleverly, Martha, Thomas, et cetera. It is these strange happenings that cause Lizzie to take a more proactive role in spying for the Continental Army.
This was an absolutely fantastic read! Jodi Daynard did a wonderful job setting the scene for The Midwife’s Revolt and the characters were wonderfully fleshed out. It seemed like each character in one way or another had a multi-faceted nature to them. The depiction of the war was interesting and it kept me, as the reader, on the edge of my seat, wondering along with Lizzie who the spies were. From her cool manner to shooting at crows with rifles to her donning the clothing of a man, Lizzie was a vastly enjoyable heroine. She seemed like she fit perfectly in the eighteenth century and it was interesting to witness her thought process.
Jodi Daynard’s treatment of historical figures was respectful and vague, keeping them at a distance but also making them believable enough. It is apparent that the writer did a great deal of research in writing this novel and it truly shows. As someone who makes a big to-do about historical accuracy, I was immensely impressed with her handling of the eighteenth century. The twists and turns in the book were very fun and really caused me to think. However, I will admit that some twists I saw coming from a mile away but that did not in anyway ruin the story. Lastly, I would like to point out the lovely Author’s Note in the back, which really was the icing on the cake. In this note, the author explains in detail how she went about writing her story and the research required in doing so. It really brought the story to life for me, to hear her explain the hows, the whats, and the whys.
Spies and Subterfuge
As this is a novel set in a time of war, it is unsurprising that there is a great deal of subterfuge and cold-blooded murder. From start to finish, one never knows who is a spy and who isn’t. Moreover, it is even more befuddling trying to figure out who is a spy for which faction. Lizzie suspects Martha Miller, Thomas Miller, and Mr. Cleverly. At one point in the book, she takes to dressing as a man to assume the role of spy herself and to observe the goings-on of those she suspects.
In the book, Lizzie has a sister-in-law by the name of Eliza Boylston. It appears that Eliza at one point in the book becomes pregnant by a young man but none quite know who the father is. We later find out who it is. However, when her son Johnny is born, it is apparent that the child has a darker skin tone and that he was fathered by an individual with darker skin. In the eighteenth century, such a happenstance was a very touchy topic because it did not happen often. The four women, Lizzie, Eliza, Abigail, and Martha raise Johnny with loving attention, like four mothers.
Sisterhood in a Time of War
One prevalent theme throughout The Midwife’s Revolt was a cadre of women that seemed to band together. Abigail Adams, Lizzie Boylston, Martha Miller, and Eliza Boylston are members of this group in Braintree, and, most importantly, they look out for each other. It made not only for an endearing theme in the book, but it added a wonderful element of patriotic camaraderie.
If you like this, you may enjoy…
- Turn. It is a fantastic series that reflects upon the life of spies during the Revolutionary War. Several of the characters depicted are based off of actual people who lived during that time.
- The Patriot. While it isn’t as historically accurate as Turn, it is a wonderful piece of cinematography and the story line is truly heart-wrenching.