Following the Battle of Culloden in 1746, orphaned Maggie Duncan is taken in by a Scottish midwife, Hannah Cameron and taught the trade. When Hannah dies, Maggie finds that there is nothing left for her in Scotland, and becomes an indentured servant bound for the American colonies. Once in Virginia, her contract is purchased by Seth Martin, whose pregnant wife nearly died the last time she was pregnant. Maggie has a good life with the Martins, though the frontier lifestyle provides challenges Maggie is unfamiliar with, particularly when it comes to conflicts between settlers and Native Americans (the novel takes place in the early 1760s, right around the time of the French and Indian War). In addition to the risks they face from Shawnee war parties, Maggie has also attracted the attention of Viscount Julian Cavendish, the youngest son of the Duke of Portland who is determined to have her, regardless of her own feelings. And as it happens, Maggie has already fallen in love with Tom Roberts, a hunter and close friend of Seth’s, who initially has no interest in settling down, in spite of his attraction to Maggie. Over the course of the novel, Maggie and the others find themselves facing dangerous adventures as they struggle to survive on the frontier.
Midwife of the Blue Ridge is Christine Blevins’ first novel, and it’s clear she has done a lot of work on this novel, in terms of research and historical consistency. And the story is engaging; I felt as though I was experiencing Maggie’s adventures along with her. The plot is active, and there is a great deal of adventure; I think this goes along with the historical consistency thing, as living an American frontier lifestyle certainly provides a different set of challenges than life in the Scottish highlands. That being said, there were some things about the book that I didn’t love, and that felt inconsistent to me. In the latter half of the novel, there is a detailed rape scene, and there are a few torture scenes as well. The detail was particularly astonishing to me, considering the total lack of detail that characterized two consenual sex scenes earlier in the novel. I think that it maybe would have been better if Blevins had chosen to be either explicit about all the details, or explicit about none of them. I also wish there had been a little more detail about how Maggie and Tom fell in love. It was pretty obvious from the beginning that they would, and then they did, but it was more that we were told rather than shown.
Another thing that frustrated me was the way every male in the book, with the exception of Seth, seemed to fancy himself in love with Maggie. However, in thinking this over, it seems a bit more plausible because of the general lack of females in western Virginia during this time. And so I can’t fault Blevins for creating desire for a female character where men so rarely see women who can take on the type of life they lead. And I liked Maggie; she was spunky, but not so much so that she was out of place for the time. She seems to have one of those unbreakable spirits. She doesn’t necessarily look for the positive in everything, but she refuses to let adversity destroy her will to fight. I suspect some of this is her survivor’s nature: surviving the destruction of her home after Culloden, and feeling that she doesn’t really have a place in Scotland after Hannah’s death. That she would be able to survive the things she saw and experienced later in the novel should have come as no surprise to me.
On the whole, I found this to be an engaging, detailed novel with an adventurous plot and a spunky heroine. It’s an area of historical fiction that doesn’t seem to have gotten much attention in recent years, but I hope Ms. Blevins and others continue to explore this time period and location. I would definitely recommend this novel to fans of historical fiction.
Rating: 3.5 stars
Publisher, ISBN: Berkley, 9780425221686