Saturday, October 18, 2014

Review: The Bloodletter's Daughter by Linda Lafferty

Royal murder, Bohemian politics, and 17th century medicine come together to form this novel based on a true story. In 1607, the mentally ill natural son of Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II, Julius D'Austria, is banished to a castle in the Bohemian town of Český Krumlov. Meanwhile, plucky yet shy bathmaid Markéta Pichlerová wants nothing more than to escape her fate as a prostitute by following in her father's footsteps to become a barber-surgeon or "bloodletter", a profession she is barred from due to her gender. Their paths come together with disastrous results.

Rich with historical detail, the narrative of this flows beautifully, yet the dialogue was occasionally a little stiff. But the characters are well developed in spite of this and there's so many historical elements that are pulled together to form this story, like the inclusion of the Voynich Manuscript, details about 17th century medicine, and the town of Český Krumlov itself. All of which make it well worth reading.

The first half is a little slow paced so it may not appeal to everyone, but it really picks up in the second half and it's not too long which means it never drags. It is told in third person from multiple points of view, including the bloodletter's daughter but also the bloodletter himself, Rudolf II, his son Julius, a court physician, and other brief, minor roles like Rudolf's brother Matthias. This makes it a more multidimensional and interesting story, giving you an understanding of Bohemia at the time, politically, medically, culturally, etc. It really explores how people at the time approached medicine and mental illness.

Even if you already know the historical events this is based on, it is a thrilling and interesting read. I was a little worried that since I knew what it was based on, it might make the novel a little boring but it definitely wasn't.

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