The Dance Tree – Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Published By: Pan Macmillan
Pages: 304
Released On: 12/05/2022

Strasbourg, 1518. In the midst of a blisteringly hot summer, a lone woman begins to dance in the city square. She dances for days without pause or rest, and as she is joined by hundreds of others, the authorities declare an emergency. Musicians will be brought in to play the Devil out of these women.

Just beyond the city’s limits, pregnant Lisbet lives with her mother-in-law and husband, tending the bees that are their livelihood. And then, as the dancing plague gathers momentum, Lisbet’s sister-in-law Nethe returns from seven years’ penance in the mountains for a crime no one wil name.

It is a secret Lisbet is determined to uncover. As the city buckles under the beat of a thousand feet, she finds herself thrust into a dangerous web of deceit and clandestine passion, but she is dancing to a dangerous tune.

*****

Thanks to Pan Macmillan for the advanced copy of this title in return for an honest review.

I fell in love with Kieran’s writing through her children’s book “Julia and the Shark”, and whilst this is an adult novel and so not comparable, I was super excited to get the chance to read it.

The very idea of a dancing fever seems absurdly fictional, and yet it was a true thing that happened in the 1500s; it was a really interesting inspiration.

I’ll be honest, this is not an easy book to read, with some difficult and controversial subjects (not surprising when it’s set over 500 years ago, there was a different thinking as to what was acceptable discussion and what wasn’t) – miscarriage, mania, death and grief, homophobia, religion and blasphemy, racism, violence – but I think the inclusion of these topics add to the power of the story.

One thing I really admire about Kieran’s writing is that, whilst the story might be slightly abstract and not instantly familiar to readers (in my opinion), her character creation is perfect. The ‘heroes’ and the ‘villains’ and everyone in between; they’re flaws and scared and brave and loving, and above all, recognisably human.

Whilst her writing has always been commendable, I think it is more polished in this book more certain. It’s like poetry the way Kiran has formed the narrative, and whilst some of the subject matter may be hard to read, the actual forming of the words and sentences is anything but.

Whilst women in the 16th Century were treated as almost second-class citizens, I feel that our main female protagonists are brave and strong and more than capable of standing up for themselves in a world ruled by men.

Whilst it’s not necessary for you to know about the true dancing fever to enjoy this book (I only knew the bare minimum), I do think this book would be very interesting for history lovers. It provides knowledge, entertainment, emotion, and heart.

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