This is one of those rare (for me) reviews splurged out immediately after reading the last line of the book, which is telling to how much I was gripped by The Dance Tree‘s final chapters.
It is set in the summer of 1518, in Strasbourg, when a plague of dancing filled the city’s scorching streets. With this as the backdrop, we follow the story of Lisbet Wiler as she navigates family secrets and threats to the family’s beekeeping livelihood in the final weeks of her thirteenth – but first full-term – pregnancy.
I’ve seen this book compared to Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell and The Familiars by Stacey Hall and I agree that it shares themes – love, loss (particularly of children), motherhood, womanhood within a patriarchy, beekeeping, a family story set in the foreground of a historical event.
It’s also its own unique piece. I enjoyed the atmospheric writing that really evoked the city in the scorching summer heat. I liked Lisbet as a protagonist. She had a believable strength and solidity about her. I thought the twists and turns of various relationships in novel were wonderfully executed. There was a gloriously hateable villain, some engaging romance, and several very different futures that the characters you end up rooting for could have been left with the end. I liked the bittersweet and slightly open ended future Millwood Hargrave ended up crafting for them.