06 December 2023

Review: The Frozen River by Ariel Lawhon

The Frozen River by Ariel Lawhon book cover

* Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster *

The Frozen River by Ariel Lawhon is an historical fiction novel set in Maine in 1789 inspired by the life of Martha Ballard. Martha was an 18th century midwife who left a diary of her work with patients, much in the way Tan Yunxian did in Lady Tan's Circle of Women by Lisa See.

If you've noticed I read another historical fiction novel set in Maine recently (The Widow of Pale Harbour by Hester Fox set in 1846) you'd be right, but these were very different books in subject matter, plot, writing style and character arcs.

Martha Ballard is a very likeable character and an excellent midwife and healer. Called on to assess the body of a man pulled from the icy Kennebec River - the frozen river of the title - Martha believes the man has been murdered.

The writing was incredibly visceral and evocative, which was offset by tender moments in the chaos like this:
"Only when the hangman cut the rope and let [character name removed for spoilers]'s body drop to the ground with a heavy thud did Ephraim turn me in to the wide shelter of his chest." Page 79
There's something in those five words that still moves me; the 'wide shelter of his chest.' Martha's work means she knows the villagers well and her medical expertise is readily called upon. The narrative focuses on the investigation of the man's death which leads to speculation it may be connected to a rape case in the town.

The character arcs and village goings on reminded me of Ken Follett's ability to launch into village life, establish characters and draw us in until we find ourselves deeply invested in their choices and decisions. Martha's relationship with her husband Ephraim was moving and I found myself caring about all of the characters and wanting them to safely navigate their problems, succeed in their endeavours and in other cases, see justice carried out.

This is my first time reading any of Ariel Lawhon's books, but I'm so glad I was sent this unsolicited copy, because now I'm a new fan. If you enjoyed Gulliver's Wife by Lauren Chater, Tidelands by Philippa Gregory or more recently, Lady Tan's Circle of Women by Lisa See, you'll love this. (I just realised these three books are also published by Simon & Schuster, looks like S&S is becoming my 'go to' for historical fiction).

Highly recommended!

My Rating:

Would you like to comment?

  1. I also loved this book, as I have ALL of Lawhon's novels. She really knows how to build an atmosphere and the tension!

    1. Great news to hear you loved this too and have ALL of her books, sounds like I have a lot of great reading ahead!

  2. I have this author on my TBR radar but I haven't managed to read her yet.

    Thanks for sharing your review with the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge!

    1. In that case Marg you have plenty to look forward to!


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