the ask@AAR: What is the best historical fiction you’ve read lately?

I cannot stop raving about The Frozen River, Ariel Lawson’s upcoming book. I can’t wait for youall to be able to read it. It is the best historical fiction I’ve read in a good long while.

Lawson’s book is about Martha Ballard, an American midwife who lived from 1735 to 1812. Ballard is a well-known figure. PBS made a film about her called A Midwife’s Tale; Laurel Thatcher Ulrich won the Pulitzer for her biography of the same name. Ballard, remarkably, kept a daily diary for the last three decades of her life, each entry beginning with the date and the weather. She personally delivered over 800 babies and attended the births of over 1000. She also testified in court cases during a time when women were still bound by the laws of coverture and rarely allowed a voice.

Lawson’s book is–in her words–inspired by real events as opposed to being based on them. It is fiction shaped by history and is a barn burner of a book. She takes the lives of real people–Martha, her extraordinary husband Ephraim, her six surviving children, the villainous Joseph North, and the people of Kennebec Valley and makes them come alive. Her versions of those long dead Americans may or may not be accurate–in general, we’ll never know–but they are gripping and ineluctable. The brutal world she pens is true to post-revolutionary America–you can feel the cold, taste the cider, and mourn the harshness of late 18th century life.

I want more books like this so, I ask you, what is the best historical fiction you’ve read lately?

Notify of

oldest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments