The Dance Tree from Kiran Millwood Hargrave is thoroughly modern and intensely historical. It’s a personal story about four women, all experiencing differing moments in life. But it’s also a commentary on religion, patriarchy, and hopelessness. There are only a few bright sections to balance the dark, heavy story.
Hargrave creates characters I care about. Sophey is the mother-in-law who initially seems crusty and finds her inner strengths. On the surface, Ida is the perfect young wife and mother. Until we learn more about her truths. Agnethe is a rebellious daughter, unwilling to ignore her true feelings. But at the book’s heart is Lisbet, a pregnant beekeeping wife whose hopes are simple.
The men in the story are primarily detestable, although Hargrave does create one or two male characters with redeeming values. This is significant to her plot, which focuses on the religious patriarchy of Strasbourg, a city straddling France and Germany today. This book is set during the famous dancing plague of 1518. In Hargrave’s story, men in the 16th century “knew best” for the women in their families and town.
The Dance Tree is a slow read, unlike the whirling dances of the plagued women at its center. It takes place in just a week or two, and Hargrave dives deep into Lisbet’s life and thought process. Character development is significant in the story, as the plague upends everyday life.
After reading the author’s earlier book, The Mercies, the tone and pace of The Dance Tree didn’t surprise me. Both books delve into women’s roles in another place and time. They move forward with care but never feel plodding. Hargrave’s writing skill is evident again in this new book. If you crave a quiet historical novel with a feminist theme, this is a perfect choice.
Thanks to NetGalley, Harpervia, and the author for a digital advanced reader’s copy in exchange for this honest review.