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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

New and Notable: Midwife of the Blue Ridge by Christine Blevins

Title: Midwife of the Blue Ridge
Author: Christine Blevins

Pages: 432 pages

Genre: Historical Fiction, mid 1700's
Edition: I received this book from Ms. Blevins, and believe it was one of her Author Copies. Christine - Thank you SO much!! I loved your book!

Perfect for : Book Club Reading (Note, the author has included a list of thoughtful questions at the back of the book) , Lit or History class reading, Personal reading

In a nutshell: I couldn't put it down - literally! Three nights in a row, my poor husband woke up around midnight to find me still reading in bed with a tiny light so I could finish the book! The story begins in 1746 Scotland, and continues in America 1763. The story surrounds Maggie Duncan, a young Scottish girl orphaned at an early age due to the massacre of her village by the English. After helping a wounded Scottish man to his home, she learns her skills as a midwife from his wife Hannah, who dies and leaves her alone in a village where the people believe she is bad luck. She travels to America as an indentured servant, intending to trade four years of service in exchange for freedom. She overcomes every hurdle encountered in this new life. This is a story of endurance, hope and love. Christine Blevins has cleverly included many details from the period to give readers a very vivid dose of what life was like in those times. She also gives us a glimpse of viewpoints from both the American settler and American Indian. This was an amazing book, and I particularly appreciated the fact that she wove both the good and bad into her story, which gave the reader a better sense of the times and the realities that people faced.

Description from Amazon:
They call her Dark Maggie for her thick black hair, but the name also has a more sinister connotation. As the lone survivor of an attack on her village, she was thought to be cursed -- and unfit for marriage. Maggie is also gifted with quick wits and skilled in medicine, trained as a midwife. Venturing to the colonies as an indentured servant, she hopes to escape the superstitions of the old country -- and find a home of her own. But what she discovers is a New World fraught with new dangers.

First Paragraph:
"Its a rare thing for a child to be delivered at my convenience . . . " Hannah launched herself from the warm cocoon of her bedcovers. A midwife is never surprised by a knock on the door in the middle of the night, but Hannah Cameron was indeed surprised when she opened the door and found a strange, bedraggled mite of a girl on her stair step.

My Review:
The story begins in 1746 Scotland, right after the battle of Culloden, where a seven year old Maggie Duncan has miraculously survived the massacre of her village. She finds Alan, a mortally wounded highlander who fought at Culloden and helps him travel home to his wife, Hannah. Hannah is grateful to Maggie for bringing her Alan home, and when she loses him and finds that Maggie is alone in the world, she takes the girl in and begins to teach her about herbs and midwifery.

Hannah tries to prepare Maggie for life without her protection by telling Maggie that she and Alan had planned on going to America as indentured servants, explaining that after four years of service, they would be free and could claim land for themselves. She encourages Maggie to leave for America, adding that once she is gone, there will be no protection from the superstitious villagers who call Maggie "Dark Maggie" and think she has the evil eye.

The story continues in 1763, when Maggie is now trying to survive on her own among a people who are afraid of her. A sea captain offers Maggie the chance to sign a contract and travel to the new world as an indentured servant. She agrees and begins the long trip to America, where the story really takes off.

Maggie uses her skills to help the other travellers on board the ship, and when they land in Virginia, her contract is won by a settler named Seth Martin, who is in desperate need of help for his ailing wife who is pregnant. Maggie is the answer to his prayers. I will stop describing the book at this point as I don't want to ruin it for anyone. Needless to say, the adventure has just begun, and before it is over, Maggie will experience loss, love, heartache and challenges as she forges a new life in this New World. She will encounter settlers, hunters, black slaves and Native Americans. Throughout her experience, she makes the best of her situation and continues to add to her skills as a healer/midwife.

The story is filled with characters who have been created with depth of character, having both strengths and faults alike. Meet the characters (there were SO many wonderful characters, but I will only include a few here):
  • Maggie Duncan - learns healing skills from a local midwife/healer after her village is brutally murdered. She travels from Scotland to America with high hopes of a new life as a free person.
  • Seth Martin - the settler who purchases her contract in America. Married to ailing Naomi who is pregnant again after suffering the loss of another baby. Seth and Naomi have three other children: Jack, Winnie, Battler.
  • Tom Roberts - an accomplished hunter/bachelor who survived life with a tribe of Native Americans and now successfully hunts and trades to earn his living.
  • Cavendish - the son of a Duke, he has been sent to America by his father to escape from the consequences of some of his actions. He is a lecher and drunk. He supervises black slaves in the creation of a tobacco plantation after chasing settlers off the land he has been charged with controlling.
  • Simon Peavey - young man who was raised by Native Americans. He does not quite fit in either world, that of the Americans or the Native Americans. He comes across as a selfish young man, who is not quite mature enough to deal with the life he faces.
  • Figg - a mentally slow individual whose character develops throughout the second half of the story, and who has a large part in the conclusion. His character grows on you.
This is a story of endurance, hope and love, passion and perseverance. Christine Blevins has cleverly included many details from the period to give readers a very vivid dose of what life was like in those times. She must have done a lot of research in both the period of history and herbal lore. I learned a lot of facts I was not aware of while reading this book.

She also weaves into her story an accounting of viewpoints from both the American settler and American Indian, which I found refreshing, creating a feeling that both peoples felt they were in the right.

This was an amazing book, and I particularly appreciated the fact that she wove the good and bad into her story - this was a harsh time in history, and many books sugar-coat it by challenging the characters with getting the crop in before it rains. That said, please note that I would not recommend this book for young adults as some of the scenes within the book were appropriate for adults, but could be too graphic for youngsters (there is a rape scene, scalping, a soldier is staked and burned alive,etc.). I do believe the scenes were very well-written and an appropriate representation of the time. I am very glad Christine Blevins took the time to research as much as she did - I've got a much better understanding of exactly how dangerous it could be on the Frontier during those times!

**I apologize now for those of you reading this first posting - I will most likely return and revise the review as I recall things from the book. I stayed up too late last night to finish the book, but couldn't wait to post something about it as I loved it so much!

About the author:

This is Christine's first book. Take a moment to visit Christine Blevins website here.

Christine has posted an excerpt of her book on her website [removed due to broken link] and I encourage you to go read it - I truly loved this book!

From her site (I took this information from multiple pages):
The MIDWIFE OF THE BLUE RIDGE story combines two concepts that intrigue me – war as a catalyst that transforms lives, and the pioneer spirit – the willingness to venture into the unknown.

Being a first generation American, and knowing only too well why and how my family “came across the water”, I was fascinated by my husband Brian’s family history – Americans as far back as anyone could figure. This link to the American past belonged to my children, and so by extension, it now belonged to me. Together, Brian and I began to research the Blevins line – I was looking for my American roots. While researching we bumped into a pair of interesting fellows – Will Blevins, and his brother-in-law Elijah Wallen. These men lived in the foothills of the Blue Ridge around 1761. Both men were longhunters, and they were among the first handful of white men to venture through the Cumberland Gap into uncharted wilderness beyond the mountains.

Well, these longhunter guys drew me onto the colonial frontier, and they proved to be the inspiration for the Tom Roberts character.

The midwife Maggie Duncan is inspired by the classic immigrant story similar to my parent’s story. Maggie’s young life was disrupted by the grand events of her time – events beyond her control that eventually forced her to venture into the unknown in search of a better life.

I set out to write the kind of book I love to read รก la my favorite historical authors like Dumas, Sabatini, Clavell and Cornwell. I combined Maggie’s immigrant tale with Tom’s yearning to see what lie beyond the horizon. I threw in a few faithful friends, a despicable Englishman, a woman of easy virtue, a giant named Figg and a dog named Friday. I mixed it all up with a good portion of adventure, action, tragedy and romance and I wound up with MIDWIFE OF THE BLUE RIDGE.


M. C. Pearson said...

Thanks for joining Wild Card!

Lenore Appelhans said...

Wasn't sure I would like this from the title/cover but you make it sound like such a great read!

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