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 soon she is joined by hundreds of others.
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 will name.
It is a secret that 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…
Thank you to the publisher for the gifted proof copy of The Dancing Tree, I’d seen it causing a bit of a stir on social media so it was not without some excitement that I picked this book up.
The story of Lisbet, living during the ‘dancing plague’ of 1518 in Strasbourg is captivating. It is a tense time, politically and personally, Lisbet lives with her ‘cold’ mother in law and her husband who has cooled towards her over time and following numerous miscarriages. Pregnant now she is afraid. Her sister in law returns to the house after a 7 year exile, a penance for reasons that nobody speaks of. But Lisbet quickly finds herself understanding more, but becomes caught up in a web of deceit and secrecy that proves to have devastating consequences.
Truthfully this is a difficult book to review, however it is a mesmerizing story that I can’t recommend highly enough. The sweltering summer, the dancing women; multiplying in numbers daily to the scorn of others – women seemingly possessed in their need to keep dancing, but why? Lisbet is a nuanced character, grieving her lost children whilst anxiously awaiting the safe arrival of this baby, fearful to hope. Fearful of the dancing women, concerned about blasphemy and devout in her faith. Tenderly looking after bees as per the family income, loyal to her friends but troubled by incongruency to her own morals and beliefs.
Capturing a brief timeframe where everything she believes she knows is called into question, this is a story of faith and love, relationships and loss and of course secrets.
Prior to reading I was unfamiliar with any dancing plagues and I enjoyed the author’s note detailing the occurrences of such instances, often linked with religious fervour and predominantly between the 14th and 17th centuries.
A must read piece of historical fiction, insightful and thought provoking.
About the Author
Kiran Millwood Hargrave is the author of eight novels for children and adults. She lives in Oxford with her husband and their rescue cats.