Friday, 17 April 2020

Review: Mary Toft; or, The Rabbit Queen by Dexter Palmer

It was the gorgeous cover of this book that caught my eye. When I read the blurb I realised I had heard of this real-life story, so I was interested to see how the author had worked it into a tale of fiction.

Way back in the early 18th century, a woman in a small English town begins giving birth to rabbits. While the local surgeon can hardly believe it (although his wife has her own opinions!), the vicar takes it as a Sign from God and the constant battle between good and evil. Word begins to spread until even the King has heard the story and he sends his own physicians to investigate...

I enjoyed the story and loved all the historical detail. It's very easy to read - I had the idea I'd browse a few pages to see what it was like, got hooked, and found I'd gone through 10% fairly quickly! The characters are thoroughly engaging. I particularly loved the fourteen-year-old Zachary (the surgeon's apprentice) and the dry humour of his master, John Howard (and John's wife!). The author has some good points to make about the perils of seeking celebrity, how easy it is to become carried away by the schemes of others, and the fragility of a good reputation.

As much as I loved Zachary, I think I would have preferred The Rabbit Queen to have had more from Mary's point of view - to learn about her life and the reasons behind the strange choices she made. Despite the title, the story is mostly made up of Zachary's observations on 18th century life, particularly in London. I think it was these details (and the characters) that made the story for me. I'd recommend it to anyone who likes their historical fiction gritty and based on true life. The only negative for me was the scene of animal cruelty towards the end of the book.

Thank you to Dexter Palmer and Corsair (Little, Brown Group, UK) for my copy of this book, which I requested via NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

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