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5 stars Plus, packed with juicy, historically accurate details, adventure, rich characters and believable dialogue

1560 Paris. 5-year-old Emilie is beaten by a gang of children down by the river, while her brother hides, laughing. They call her ‘Huguenot swine’, words she doesn’t yet understand. By age 16, she understands well enough, and she still has headaches.

She’s dreading her morning of lessons reading Latin scriptures. She wants to learn science, poetry, geography, the arts like her brother Pierre, and she often sneaks into the library of her noble father Olivier Lefroy, adviser to King Charles IX.

Better yet, she wants to learn about healing herbs, and seeks instruction from Thomas the gardener. She sketches them afterward in her room. She slips off to the apothecary, where she meets with Thomas’s mother the midwife Helene. At night she reads Materia Medica.

Princess Marguerite of Valois is soon to marry Henry of Navarre. Emilie is expected to marry Pierre’s arrogant friend Marcus.

Pierre violates Emilie’s maid Marie and lays the blame on Thomas, setting off tragic consequences for the servants of the Lefroys. But Emilie’s parents’ ambitions for her are thwarted by the intervention of the Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. Her parents are murdered, and there are corpses all over the streets. She escapes the city with Thomas’s family, Hubert the apothecary and Marie in a cart disguised as corpses, and they flee through the forest. She is rescued by the Benedictines. She joins with Brother Nicholas and her ex-governess, setting up an infirmary tending to wounded and sick Huguenots. She achieves her ambition of becoming a healer.

After many travels and much adventure, Marcus and Pierre catch up with her, ending in a fightand a a misadventure. We finally learn what drives Marcus and Pierre to their dastardly deeds.

This is a story of a war between two religions, and the adventure story of a girl seeking her own identity in a world that constricts her. Trying to survive the Bartholomew’s Day Massacre and its aftermath must have been horrific.

We modern women can identify with the feisty Emilie who chafes against the expectations of the period for her gender. She has a passion—herbal healing—and we are drawn into her enthusiasm, learning as she learns. Across her travels, as well as religious conflict and herbs, we learn about castle life, the apothecary business, forest survival skills, monastic life and industry, paper and candle making, medieval surgical practice, the lifestyle of cloistered nuns, ecclesiastical and noble intrigue and politics…

This novel is packed with juicy detail, and ample time is devoted to fully exploring the many characters.

The writing is true to its time; the dialogue sounds mostly believable for the 16th century. I wonder, though, whether people back then would not have discussed their religious beliefs a bit more, and referred to God, Jesus, Mary, the saints, quoting scripture, etc. more in their daily conversation. And I didn’t understand why a countess would take a position as governess, and I don’t think the perpetrators of a ‘massacre’ would have called it such, and a liar wouldn’t have called them ‘lies’. The activities of the characters seem historically accurate. This is so important in historical fiction, and this novel does it beautifully.

Reviewed by

Susie Helme is an American ex-pat living in London, after sojourns in Tokyo, Paris and Geneva, with a passion for ancient history and politics, and magic, mythology and religion. After a career in mobile communications journalism, she has retired to write historical novels and proofread/edit novels.

Paris 1572

About the author

Ingrid Ramsdale was born in Sydney, Australia but spent her early childhood years in Papua New Guinea. She now lives in small rural town in south-east Tasmania. When she is not writing, Ingrid enjoys growing and cooking her own produce, bushwalking and travelling. view profile

Published on May 14, 2021

80000 words

Genre: Historical Fiction

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