In 1880, a wealthy mine owner in a small Colorado town accuses the local midwife of murdering his infant son.
Gracy Brookens is put on trial, forced to defend not only herself, but everything she represents. On one side are the local doctor and the undertaker who reject Gracy as a superstitious, untrained quack; on the other, generations of mountain women who pass down knowledge of herbs and other folk remedies in addition to birthing babies. The trial polarizes the community and portrays the age-old struggle between progress and tradition. While the tension and legal-thriller aspect of the novel are well-paced, its true strength lies in a deep commitment to setting and time period. The mining town way of life is clearly hard, but Dallas’ characters live with dignity and maintain their senses of wonder at the beauty of the natural world. Gracy herself is refreshingly human, and the poor mountain people she helps are expertly sketched to be interesting, believable characters rather than mere types (with the exception of the wealthy Halleck family). As one might expect, the women carry the story, but the men, though perhaps more flawed, are still significant and sympathetic. Dallas (A Quilt for Christmas, 2014, etc.) clearly spent time researching midwifery practices of the time period, and the details of childbirth, both successful and complicated, are unflinching but also show great respect for women like Gracy who truly have a calling. This is a novel that celebrates women: their unbreakable bonds, their unselfish love for their children, their incredible capacity to endure.
Like Gracy, the novel may seem delicate but its strength is in the layers. A period piece with a contemporary soul.