The Last Midwife
by Sandra Dallas
St. Martin’s Press, 2015
The last midwife in Swandyke, Colorado in 1880, Gracy Brookens is known and loved by most everyone on the mountain. Patient and compassionate, she has delivered thousands of babies and only lost a handful. People trust her for her knowledge and experience in pregnancy and delivery, and even though there is a licensed doctor in town now, women still call on the Sagehen when their time comes. But Gracy’s world is turned upside down when she is accused of murdering the baby of one of the community’s leading citizens. Now she finds herself swept along in a flood of legal proceedings, struggling to continue to serve the women who depend on her with the help of a very small circle of friends and loved ones who truly believe her innocence. Secrets abound, and shedding light on the truth will have painful consequences.
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The Last Midwife is a beautiful story of birth and death, of faith and sins and forgiveness. I loved the protagonist, Gracy Brookens, for her willingness to help others at her own expense. Her unquestioning love for women of all ages and statures and the children they bear is moving and uplifting. Her occupation inevitably exposes her to death and the worst side of families, and yet she continues to care for mothers and deliver babies without hesitation. Being accused of a truly horrendous crime does nothing to lessen her devotion to the women who need her, perhaps even strengthens it.
I have read books in which the main characters were heroes of the first order, never doing wrong of any sort, never even tempted to do wrong. The characters in this story were realistic in the struggles they faced in making right decisions and in how they chose to treat those who had wronged them. There are many examples of how bad things can become blessings to those who are faithful, especially in the last few chapters.
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The historical aspects of the story were detailed and accurate, and made the story and the characters wonderfully believable. The author did a great job setting the scene so that her readers are submerged in the world of this mountain mining community and it’s people. The proud, sometimes superstitious nature of the mountain folk adds color to the character landscape. She doesn’t shy away from portraying situations that are horrible in their authenticity, things that we don’t like to believe really happen, though we know they do.
Another thing I enjoyed was that the author allowed the perfect amount of information to trickle out all through the story, keeping you wondering what secrets would be revealed next. If you read enough fiction you eventually start to develop an ability to sometimes guess what a character’s secrets or motivations will turn out to be, but there were several surprises in this book for me in the last chapters.
A beautifully written narrative that highlights attitudes toward and by women that are still relevant today, I would recommend The Last Midwife even to people that don’t typically choose historical fiction.