Book Review

The Hemlock Cure – Joanne Burn

Today I am reviewing the dark historical novel, The Hemlock Cure by Joanne Burn. Many thanks to Little, Brown Book Group for my copy of the book which I received via NetGalley.


It is 1665 and the women of Eyam keep many secrets.

Isabel Frith, the village midwife, walks a dangerous line with her herbs and remedies. There are men in the village who speak of witchcraft, and Isabel has a past to hide. So she tells nobody her fears about Wulfric, the pious, reclusive apothecary.

Mae, Wulfric’s youngest daughter, dreads her father’s rage if he discovers what she keeps from him. Like her feelings for Rafe, Isabel’s ward, or the fact that she studies from Wulfric’s books at night.

But others have secrets too. Secrets darker than any of them could have imagined.

When Mae makes a horrifying discovery, Isabel is the only person she can turn to. But helping Mae will place them both in unimaginable peril.

And meanwhile another danger is on its way from London. One that threatens to engulf them all . . .

Based on the real history of an English village during the Great Plague, The Hemlock Cure is an utterly beguiling tale of fear and ambition, betrayal, self-sacrifice and the unbreakable bond between two women.


The Hemlock Cure is part historical fiction, part coming-of-age and part love story, making it a book that will appeal to different people on many different levels.

Joanne Burn’s decision to have the book narrated by Mae’s dead sister Leah as she watches over the people of Eyam made for a compelling hook, making me very curious as to how she and her mother died. The flashbacks to Leah’s own memories and the excerpts from Wulfric’s diary built on this mystery as Mae’s own story unfolded, making for a tale that I found hard to put down. Mae is a character that I quickly became attached to, and my heart broke for the life that she found herself living.

Whilst reading about a community ravaged by the plague, it is impossible not to draw comparisons to the situation the world has so recently faced. It was startling how little has really changed in the intervening years. Knowing that the book is based on fact, and that the people of Eyam really did lock themselves away from the world in an attempt to limit the spread of the plague made it all the more fascinating to read.

I think I went through the entire emotional spectrum whilst reading this book as I fell under the spell of the wonderful characters stored within its pages.

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