Life in Maine in the years after the Revolutionary War continues to be hard for Hannah Trevor, the gifted, conflicted midwife who sprang to full reality in Margaret Lawrence's Hearts and Bones and continued to grow in its equally strong successor, Blood Red Roses. Five months pregnant with the much-wanted child of her lover, the English aristocrat Daniel Josselyn, strong-willed Hannah still can't decide if she wants to marry him. "It seemed too much like a fairy tale to be credited and, like a stone in her boot heel, the voice of reason grumbled: Madam Midwife, you are eight-and-thirty, and froward. He finds you pleasant enough in the darkness, no doubt.... I am not made for a gentleman's lady. I will wound him one day, deep, deep." Meanwhile, Hannah's position as an equal, honored guest in the welcoming household of her Aunt Julia and Uncle Henry Markham is threatened by the demands of their jealous daughter-in-law, Sally. Sally is married to the Markham's fugitive son Jonathan who is under sentence of death for nonpayment of taxes to the financially and morally bankrupt new country. "Julia stared into the kettle, her mouth set and her eyes brimming. If he lived and was pardoned at last, Jonathan would one day inherit Two Mills from his father. And Julia's own place in the house would then depend almost entirely upon Sally's good will." Hannah and Daniel's troubles are increased by two murders: of a local sawbones who brought charges against the midwife for criticizing his overuse of narcotics, and of a high-court official killed by militiamen under Daniel's control.
As she did in her two previous books, Lawrence uses the metaphor and skills of quilting to stitch together fictional and real public documents (a quote from Abigail Adams to Thomas Jefferson is particularly telling), recipes, household tips, journal fragments, and easily accessible period dialogue into a book with perhaps a bit more history than mystery but enough delight and dignity to be fully satisfying. --Dick Adler