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The Dance Tree

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In Strasbourg, in the boiling hot summer of 1518, a plague strikes the women of the city. First it is just one – a lone figure, dancing in the main square – but she is joined by more and more and the city authorities declare an emergency. Musicians will be brought in. The devil will be danced out of these women. Just beyond the city’s limits, pregnant Lisbet lives with her In Strasbourg, in the boiling hot summer of 1518, a plague strikes the women of the city. First it is just one – a lone figure, dancing in the main square – but she is joined by more and more and the city authorities declare an emergency. Musicians will be brought in. The devil will be danced out of these women. Just beyond the city’s limits, pregnant Lisbet lives with her mother-in-law and husband, tending the bees that are their livelihood. Her best friend Ida visits regularly and Lisbet is so looking forward to sharing life and motherhood with her. And then, just as the first woman begins to dance in the city, Lisbet’s sister-in-law Nethe returns from six years’ penance in the mountains for an unknown crime. No one – not even Ida – will tell Lisbet what Nethe did all those years ago, and Nethe herself will not speak a word about it. It is the beginning of a few weeks that will change everything for Lisbet – her understanding of what it is to love and be loved, and her determination to survive at all costs for the baby she is carrying. Lisbet and Nethe and Ida soon find themselves pushing at the boundaries of their existence – but they’re dancing to a dangerous tune . . .


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In Strasbourg, in the boiling hot summer of 1518, a plague strikes the women of the city. First it is just one – a lone figure, dancing in the main square – but she is joined by more and more and the city authorities declare an emergency. Musicians will be brought in. The devil will be danced out of these women. Just beyond the city’s limits, pregnant Lisbet lives with her In Strasbourg, in the boiling hot summer of 1518, a plague strikes the women of the city. First it is just one – a lone figure, dancing in the main square – but she is joined by more and more and the city authorities declare an emergency. Musicians will be brought in. The devil will be danced out of these women. Just beyond the city’s limits, pregnant Lisbet lives with her mother-in-law and husband, tending the bees that are their livelihood. Her best friend Ida visits regularly and Lisbet is so looking forward to sharing life and motherhood with her. And then, just as the first woman begins to dance in the city, Lisbet’s sister-in-law Nethe returns from six years’ penance in the mountains for an unknown crime. No one – not even Ida – will tell Lisbet what Nethe did all those years ago, and Nethe herself will not speak a word about it. It is the beginning of a few weeks that will change everything for Lisbet – her understanding of what it is to love and be loved, and her determination to survive at all costs for the baby she is carrying. Lisbet and Nethe and Ida soon find themselves pushing at the boundaries of their existence – but they’re dancing to a dangerous tune . . .

30 review for The Dance Tree

  1. 4 out of 5

    Toria (some what in hiatus)

    When I read the blurb that this was going to be about the dance plague, I quickly picked the audiobook up but unfortunately the story didn't work for me. I didn't get attached to the characters and the plot wasn't as intruiging that I had hoped. I think my fascination for the dance plague beforehand kinda ruined the book for me. Don't know what I expected but wasn't the kind of story I wanted. Might pick this up on a later date to try again When I read the blurb that this was going to be about the dance plague, I quickly picked the audiobook up but unfortunately the story didn't work for me. I didn't get attached to the characters and the plot wasn't as intruiging that I had hoped. I think my fascination for the dance plague beforehand kinda ruined the book for me. Don't know what I expected but wasn't the kind of story I wanted. Might pick this up on a later date to try again

  2. 4 out of 5

    Erin

    The Dance Tree by Kiran Millwood Hargrave (2022) In an author’s note at the end of this version of the novel, Kiran Millwood Hargrave outlines the sphere of her interest: ‘In July 1518, in the midst of the hottest summer Central Europe had ever known, a woman whose name is recorded as Frau Troffea began to dance in the streets of Strasbourg. This was no ordinary dance – it was unrelenting, closer to a trance than a celebration. She danced for days, any attempts to make her rest thwarted, until it The Dance Tree by Kiran Millwood Hargrave (2022) In an author’s note at the end of this version of the novel, Kiran Millwood Hargrave outlines the sphere of her interest: ‘In July 1518, in the midst of the hottest summer Central Europe had ever known, a woman whose name is recorded as Frau Troffea began to dance in the streets of Strasbourg. This was no ordinary dance – it was unrelenting, closer to a trance than a celebration. She danced for days, any attempts to make her rest thwarted, until it drew the attention of the Twenty-One, the city’s council, and she was taken to the shrine of St Vitus, patron saint of dancers and musicians. After being bathed in the spring there, she stopped dancing.’ Hargrave notes that incidents of choreomania were – if not common – recurrent in Medieval times, rationalised as religious mania, and what seems to me to be the nub of this novel is the fact that ‘[o]ften, the dancers were society’s most vulnerable, whether through class, age, race, or gender.’ What we get in Hargrave’s second novel for adults is a story of four women, centred around Lisbet, a beekeeper, childless but pregnant for the thirteenth time, and a story of how these four women (Lisbet with her mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and closest friend) resist men’s attempts to supress them, confine them, to crush them as the Twenty-One seek to nullify the dancing women: ‘He goes whistling through the house, closing the door a little too loudly. Lisbet has always marvelled at this habit in men […]. How they move through the world so loudly, so unashamedly, without thought for who hears them, or if they disturb others.’ ‘What must it be, to be a man and be able to leave your grief behind, or else shrink it small enough to carry about in a pocket, and bear it enough to live a different life?’ I haven’t read ‘The Girl of Ink and Stars’ (2016) or ‘The Island at the End of Everything’ (2017) by Kiran Millwood Hargrave; I jumped in at ‘The Deathless Girls’ (2019), mostly attracted by its fantastic cover artwork. However, I found this YA novel lacklustre, straining for the Gothic and not quite achieving it. It came across as too voyeuristic; as though the reader was on the outside of the story, looking in. So, I will confess that I haven’t always been a fan of the author. I somewhat enjoyed ‘The Mercies’ (2020), but found I was unsettled with the ending of that, the author’s first novel for adults, and could never really root for the characters. The turning point was when I casually picked up ‘The Way Past Winter’ (2018): the writing was full of vitality and the characters wonderfully engaging. With that, I embraced Hargrave’s style, and when ‘Julia and the Shark’ was released last year, I gobbled it up immediately, ordered myself a copy of ‘A Secret of Birds & Bone’ (2020), and I jumped at the chance of reading her second novel for adults. Here, we find Hargrave’s voice polished and practised; words flow into passages, pages into chapters, and the narrative spills and pools like honey overrunning from Lisbet's bee combs. The writing in ‘The Dance Tree’ is just gorgeous: ‘The king rises from the remains of his hive, buzzing enormously. He sways, bumbles against Lisbet’s cheek. She feels the graze of his wing, light as broken cobwebs, and then he lifts higher and is encased inside his colony. The bees rise with him as though he is an anchor made air, as though their tethers are suddenly cut, and they follow him into the forest.’ I imagine that the author has been able to bring this novel to life so richly because it echoes her personal experience. Hargrave is an outspoken advocate for family mental health, particularly following pregnancy loss. She speaks openly on social media about her struggles to carry children to term. Hargrave is recording here what she knows. Perhaps I felt that when she was writing previously about vampire brides, or the Vardø Witch Trials, there was too much research cluttering the space between the work and the reader. But that changed with ‘Julia and the Shark’, where she writes about mental illness; and in her short story, Confinement, in the anthology ‘The Haunting Season’ (2021), where she is writing about post-natal depression. These are subjects with intense significance for the author. Thus, they spark off the page. There is breath and pulse and life when Hargrave writes of them. And the same is true with ‘The Dance Tree’: ‘The story of her birth is the story of a comet. At the moment Gepa Bauer’s mother felt the first pain of her coming, her papa saw it, a burning star ripping the dark sky for three days while her mother laboured on all fours like a beast, her husband and sons sleeping in the barn because they were scared of her pain, of the blood, of the wise woman who came with sweet mallow and iron tongs. To the east, the comet found a farmer’s field and scorched it fully, furrowed so deep those who were there said it was like a tunnel to Hell carved in the soil. As it tore the ground, Gepa was born feet first and the agony broke her mother’s mind.’ This new novel is muscular, strong and wieldy. I found the characters gripping from the very first page. That sounds like hyperbole, but it isn’t. One of the pleasures of this novel is how action-driven the plot is, even if it’s only the action of Lisbet stretching her back, or the women eating side-by-side. The dialogue, too, is full and resonant; Hargrave’s character portrayal is splendid in this respect. There are points when a character’s speech made me gasp aloud. Hargrave’s observational powers shine from the whole cast. There is not one extraneous character here. The relationship between Lisbet and her confidante Ida is beautifully written right from the start, tender and engaging. That between Lisbet and Agnethe, her sister-in-law, is perfectly enthralling; their pieces of dialogue together are some of the finest writing in the novel. Some of the dancing women themselves are given brief biographies that pepper the narrative between chapters, and this device serves effectively to seize tension and pull the reader through to the next scene, or – in some cases – to deepen our sympathy or empathy. Nor is there any superfluous scene in ‘The Dancing Tree’; midway, I feared there just wasn’t going to be enough of this gorgeous book to enjoy. The timing is delicately paced and very well pitched, as Lisbet, and the women who surround her, move through revelations of who they truly are, and metamorphose into new-found selves; with character arc illustrated symbolically throughout by what happens to Lisbet’s bees: ‘It takes an age, but Lisbet is revived from her sleep, and she works as though she had practised for just this moment her whole life, a life that until now had been full of ruin and curses and blood and now is nothing but music and beauty and bees, her mother-in-law processing before her, anointing her path with smoke. She feels some of the power a priest must, giving each animal their place, clearing them of their panic, their confusion. Giving them peace. The unhomed bees gust and plume, making a column above the destroyed hives.’ Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s writing in ‘The Dance Tree’ overall is taut, crafted, considered. There are a few spelling mistakes here and there (vice instead of vise no less than 3 times) and some oddly phrased sentences, grammar-wise, but this is an ARC and I’m hoping these will be repaired in the finished copy. This is one of those mesmerising reads that you feel utterly scooped-out and empty after finishing. Beautiful: ‘This time he plays something lovely and low, more mournful than what he lulled the bees with. It is a keen with the edges smoothed, an unmistakeable lament. Lisbet closes her eyes again, and leans back against the trunk. She lets herself drift, lets her thoughts wander, and it makes her remember. She remembers the first child she carried, and the second. They come to her, each of her children, spooling from the music like spirits: bodies of light, souls of god.’ There is violence here: violence towards women, violence of hate; verbal abuse and emotional abuse. But the text is redemptive, and – I like to hope – not through a solely hetero-centric resolution. ‘The Mercies’ also suffered somewhat from the Bury Your Gays trope / Dead Lesbian Syndrome, where LGBT+ relationships are frustrated or denied fulfilment, either through death or permanent separation. However, Hargrave does conclude in her remarkably tender author’s note: 'It’s easy to draw lines from then to now in attitudes to the LGBT+ community, to immigrants, to class. We have come so far, and not nearly far enough. […] The world-at-large remains too often a hostile place for people who live, look, or love a different way. In The Dance Tree, I wanted to offer my characters a place to be safe and themselves. […] Lisbet is my attempt to offer a mirror to anyone else struggling to see themselves, and a window to those who might need the insight.' My thanks are due to Pan Macmillan for an ARC through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Neil

    Alsace, 1492. This happened: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ensis... Strasbourg, 1518. This happened: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Danci... These two historical events underpin Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s book, especially the dancing plague in Strasbourg. The meteorite is relevant because our protagonist, Lisbet, was born as it crashed into a field and the mark it left on that field left its own mark on her family. 1518 was in the middle of a difficult period in Strasbourg. The sixteenth century Alsace, 1492. This happened: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ensis... Strasbourg, 1518. This happened: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Danci... These two historical events underpin Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s book, especially the dancing plague in Strasbourg. The meteorite is relevant because our protagonist, Lisbet, was born as it crashed into a field and the mark it left on that field left its own mark on her family. 1518 was in the middle of a difficult period in Strasbourg. The sixteenth century was a period of extreme weather which meant years of failed harvests, searingly hot summers and winters so cold that people literally froze to death in the streets. Nowadays, we would turn to science to explain this, but, in 1518 there was only one explanation: God. Many preachers had taught that the comet was a warning. And the combination of extreme weather and territorial wars between France and Germany meant the poor people in the area had little choice but to borrow from the church. Unfortunately for them, at this point in history, the church was not so much a religious compassionate organisation but more a merciless money-making business. In the midst of this, a woman called Frau Troffea in the city pauses as she walks and begins to dance. Over the next few days, she is joined by hundreds of other women as a “dancing mania” spreads across the city. This much is fact. By 1518, Lisbet is married and living on her husband’s family’s farm where she tends the bees. And is heavily pregnant. As the story opens, she and the rest of the family are waiting for the return of Agnethe, Lisbet’s sister-in-law, who has been away for 7 years as a penance for an unnamed sin that the family will not talk about. In the book, it is very quickly obvious what that “sin” or “crime” is and it was a source of some frustration for me as I read that it was not revealed in the book until the halfway point. This was probably a very deliberate choice by the author but I found it put me on edge as I read because the reveal took so long to come. Agnethe’s return coincides with the church making an unreasonable demand on the farm. And it is these two events that trigger and drive the story we read. Kiran Millwood Hargrave is a poet as well as a novelist (and playwright). She is perhaps best known for her children’s books. Her book The Mercies, which I have not read, seems to take a similar line to this new book: both are based on historical events and tell the stories of strong women battling against the patriarchal and superstitious culture of medieval Europe. This book is interspersed with short chapters that describe several different women as they join the dancing, and we are left to imagine for ourselves what it is that drives them to that (the author gives her theory in her note at the end). The writing here is elegant and the author’s poetic sensibilities are obvious in her prose. It’s an evocative book to read with both emotions and events described in elegant language. Some of the characters are perhaps a bit hemmed in by their purpose in the story, but that is a minor quibble that is probably more related to the fact that I rarely read historical fiction and read this in an attempt to broaden my reading horizons. 3.5 stars rounded up. My thanks to the publisher for an ARC via NetGalley.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    Kiran Millwood Hargrave is one of my favourite new voices in historical fiction (she had written fiction for children and young adults before 2020’s The Mercies). Both novels hit the absolute sweet spot between the literary and women’s fiction camps, choosing a lesser-known time period and incident and filling in the background with sumptuous detail and language. Both also consider situations in which women, queer people and other cultural minorities were oppressed, and imagine characters pushin Kiran Millwood Hargrave is one of my favourite new voices in historical fiction (she had written fiction for children and young adults before 2020’s The Mercies). Both novels hit the absolute sweet spot between the literary and women’s fiction camps, choosing a lesser-known time period and incident and filling in the background with sumptuous detail and language. Both also consider situations in which women, queer people and other cultural minorities were oppressed, and imagine characters pushing against those boundaries in affirming but authentic-feeling ways. The setting is Strasbourg in the sweltering summer of 1518, when a dancing plague (choreomania) hit and hundreds of women engaged in frenzied public dancing, often until their feet bled or even, allegedly, until 15 per day dropped dead. Lisbet observes this all at close hand through her sister-in-law and best friend, who get caught up in the dancing. In the final trimester of pregnancy at last after the loss of many pregnancies and babies, Lisbet tends to the family beekeeping enterprise while her husband is away, but gets distracted when two musicians (brought in to accompany the dancers; an early strategy before the council cracked down), one a Turk, lodge with her and her mother-in-law. The dance tree, where she commemorates her lost children, is her refuge away from the chaos enveloping the city. She’s a naive point-of-view character who quickly has her eyes opened about different ways of living. “It takes courage, to love beyond what others deem the right boundaries.” This is likely to attract readers of Hamnet. I was also reminded of The Sleeping Beauties, in that the author’s note discusses the possibility that the dancing plagues were an example of a mass hysteria that arose in response to religious restrictions.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Kimmy Classic Australian Crawl C

    Not what I quite was expecting; which was a book dealing with the dancing plague (actually happened - Strasbourg, 1518, still undecided as to the cause, ranging from mania to ergot poisoning). This deals with Lisbet, a pregnant woman living just out of Strasbourg, and her family; her husband, who must go to defend the family’s bees (and therefore; livelihood) against a charge of stealing (the bees steal the pollen from others’ properties, as if we needed an example of how far we’ve come), her mo Not what I quite was expecting; which was a book dealing with the dancing plague (actually happened - Strasbourg, 1518, still undecided as to the cause, ranging from mania to ergot poisoning). This deals with Lisbet, a pregnant woman living just out of Strasbourg, and her family; her husband, who must go to defend the family’s bees (and therefore; livelihood) against a charge of stealing (the bees steal the pollen from others’ properties, as if we needed an example of how far we’ve come), her mother-in-law, a dour, prickly woman it would seem, then the returned sister-in-law, Agnethe, back from 7 years penance for a crime that no one will speak of. Added to that are Lisbet’s friend, Ida, and her husband, who is one of the Twenty One, a feared law-enforcing organisation, and a couple of musicians who are brought in to try end the dance plague, then you have a gently moving story, but with the dancing mostlyas a back drop. 3.5 rounded up, but would’ve liked more on the dancers - why?

  6. 5 out of 5

    Gloria Arthur (Ms. G's Bookshelf)

    ⭐️4 Stars⭐️ Not only was I intrigued by the absolutely stunning book cover, I also adore historical fiction therefore I was incredibly excited when I received a copy of The Dance Tree by Kiran Millwood Hargrave. The writing in this book is filled with descriptive and lyrical prose and I found it very captivating. It’s a story of female friendship, loss and forbidden love. It’s set in the year 1518 and based on a true story. In the hot summer heat there’s a ‘Dance Plague’ in Strasbourg, it begins wi ⭐️4 Stars⭐️ Not only was I intrigued by the absolutely stunning book cover, I also adore historical fiction therefore I was incredibly excited when I received a copy of The Dance Tree by Kiran Millwood Hargrave. The writing in this book is filled with descriptive and lyrical prose and I found it very captivating. It’s a story of female friendship, loss and forbidden love. It’s set in the year 1518 and based on a true story. In the hot summer heat there’s a ‘Dance Plague’ in Strasbourg, it begins with a woman dancing in wild abandon for days, nobody can stop her and she doesn’t take food or rest, it’s almost as if she is in a trance. Other women join her……then hundreds! The authorities will bring in musicians to stop this madness and the devil in the women. Many of the women die! Lisbet Wiler our protagonist is a heavily pregnant housewife and beekeeper who struggles to carry a child full term, heartbreakingly she has lost many babies, she lives on a farm with her husband Henne and mother-in-law Sophey. Lisbet often visits a pagan ‘Dance Tree’, a place in the forest near home where she goes to grieve silently for her lost babies. Agnethe her newfound sister-in-law has returned to the family after serving penance for the past seven years …. for a sin unknown to Lisbet and nobody seems to want Lisbet to know what that sin is! I loved the bee keeping aspects of the story and found the storytelling very atmospheric. A large part of the plot centres around outcasts and the hardships of women so it was also a very haunting story. Publication Date 10 May 2022
 Publisher Pan MacMillan Australia (Imprint Picador)
 Thank you so very much Pan Macmillan Australia for a copy of the book.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Y.

    Astonishingly good. Run, don’t walk to your nearest bookshop to get this come May.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Bell

    I was first intrigued by this book because I've always been slightly fascinated by The Dance Plague of 1518 - is that slightly morbid? probably - and so a story set then intrigued me. What Hargrave has done here has taken this slightly bizarre historical factoid and breathed life and humanity into it.  The story focuses for the most part on Lisbet, a beekeeper and farmer's wife on the outskirts of Strasbourg. However, we get little interludes where we see a snapshot of some of the women who ende I was first intrigued by this book because I've always been slightly fascinated by The Dance Plague of 1518 - is that slightly morbid? probably - and so a story set then intrigued me. What Hargrave has done here has taken this slightly bizarre historical factoid and breathed life and humanity into it.  The story focuses for the most part on Lisbet, a beekeeper and farmer's wife on the outskirts of Strasbourg. However, we get little interludes where we see a snapshot of some of the women who ended up caught up in the dance plague, and these were excellently executed to show us a little of who they were as people and how they ended up dancing. This is part of a continued theme throughout the book of focusing on the lives and personhood of the women of this story, and rooting the answer to why the plague happened in their lives and experiences and psyches.  Lisbet is a sympathetic and likeable character who has faced great losses, and Hargrave truly pulls the reader into her life and mind.  The story starts with the return of her sister-in-law - who has been doing penance in a nunnery - and her husband having to journey away from home. Part of the first half of the book is focused on the mystery of why her sister-in-law, Agnethe, had to do penance. Now, I figured this out pretty quickly because I'd already seen what rep the book had been tagged with, and so grew a little impatient with how long it takes for this to be revealed, but I'm not sure how obvious it was supposed to be without that context. Agnethe and the other side characters as also excellently sketched out, and all together Hargrave's writing portrays a vivid picture of the era and its people, with excellent use of imagery and language.  Highly recommend for fellow histfic lovers!

  9. 4 out of 5

    Isabelle✨

    Bro I was just at Strasbourg a week ago! So rainy tho.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Belinda Carvalho

    Kiran Millwood Hargrave's books are always highly recommended so I was really excited to read this Net Galley ARC. The Dance Tree is strong, well-written modern historical fiction set in Strasbourg 1518 , which opens with pregnant Lisbet and her husband Henne anticipating the arrival of his sister Nethe back into their lives after a spell of penance in a nunnery for an unknown sin. Lisbet is a quiet soul who has suffered many miscarriages and finds refuge in keeping the bees that provide their l Kiran Millwood Hargrave's books are always highly recommended so I was really excited to read this Net Galley ARC. The Dance Tree is strong, well-written modern historical fiction set in Strasbourg 1518 , which opens with pregnant Lisbet and her husband Henne anticipating the arrival of his sister Nethe back into their lives after a spell of penance in a nunnery for an unknown sin. Lisbet is a quiet soul who has suffered many miscarriages and finds refuge in keeping the bees that provide their livelihood. She struggles to understand the reason why the family are so hostile to Nethe's return and what the secret is that put her there. Nethe's return proves a catalyst that changes everything. At the same time, a plague or mania of dancing women begins in the city and this eventually becomes a threatening force to the TwentIy One , a council of men who run the area as more and more women become entranced in this. When Lisbet's husband has to travel away she is forced to draw on her own reserves and this begins a journey of self-discovery for her. This is a sensual read and I found myself really feeling and seeing everything in the text, the writing is beautiful. Many themes in women's lives are covered, what makes a mother, the pain of miscarriage, sexuality, madness, superstition, people who are other...there is quite lot going on. This could perhaps be one of the small things that I would change, it might have benefited from being more streamlined and I sometimes wanted Lisbet to be stronger and for her story to be focused on more but all in all it's a beautiful, clever novel set during a very different time and is extremely page-turning.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Dan Bassett

    Strasbourg, 1518. Summer. A time for new beginnings, sharing the joys that nature brings forth with her bounty of what she offers, be it honey from the hives of thousands of bees all working towards one end, to the rays of sunshine kissing your face making you grateful to be alive. Or the heat can be blistering, suffocating, damning, like that of a place no pious person would ever wish to tread. During one such summer, a lone woman begins to dance in the city square and in doing so abandons everyt Strasbourg, 1518. Summer. A time for new beginnings, sharing the joys that nature brings forth with her bounty of what she offers, be it honey from the hives of thousands of bees all working towards one end, to the rays of sunshine kissing your face making you grateful to be alive. Or the heat can be blistering, suffocating, damning, like that of a place no pious person would ever wish to tread. During one such summer, a lone woman begins to dance in the city square and in doing so abandons everything she ever knew and will dance continuously, without pause, without rest, without a care and soon others join her in their hundreds. Just beyond the great city’s limits, Lisbet who is pregnant hoping this child sees the world, lives with her less than hospitable mother-in-law and husband as they tend to their bees which are the very livelihood for all of the family. One day as the dancing become more erratic and gathering momentum, Lisbet’s sister-in-law Nethe returns after a seven year penance hidden away in the mountains for an unknown crime and Lisbet cannot help but wonder just what kept Nethe locked away for so long and why will no one talk about it? Yet as the city baulks under the strain of a thousand feet, Lisbet shall find herself caught in the web of deceit, death, and a passion she surely could never act upon and little does she know, she begins dancing to a most dangerous tune all of her own doing, yet will she realise or will she damn those around her too? Mesmerising, immaculate and truly extraordinary, the author weaves a story which is destined to be a modern day classic that only secures her right to be known as a faultless story teller.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Theresa Smith

    I was captivated by Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s first novel, The Mercies, and again, she has held me spellbound with this one, The Dance Tree. ‘She’d recognised it instantly for what it was: a dance tree. A doom tree. A relic of the pagans who had their churches open under God.’ The Dance Tree is a novel based on history, specifically this: ‘Between the fourteenth and the seventeenth centuries, dancing plagues, or choreomania, occurred regularly. …one of the most popular explanations, both now and the I was captivated by Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s first novel, The Mercies, and again, she has held me spellbound with this one, The Dance Tree. ‘She’d recognised it instantly for what it was: a dance tree. A doom tree. A relic of the pagans who had their churches open under God.’ The Dance Tree is a novel based on history, specifically this: ‘Between the fourteenth and the seventeenth centuries, dancing plagues, or choreomania, occurred regularly. …one of the most popular explanations, both now and then, was a religious mania.’ – Author note. The author goes into more detail of course in her author note, even providing the name of the first woman that started the dancing plague upon which this story is based, but suffice to say, once again, I have been introduced, through fiction, to a history that I previously knew nothing about. ‘Why do you think those women dance? Because there is no earthly way to be saved. You and Mutter have told me enough times – Strasbourg is sliding Hellwards. And we women, we bear the brunt. We are bred or banished, and always, always damned. Prayers cannot help us, the priests will not help us. Your babies were never blessed, so they were damned. It is not right, that is the unnatural act, not this.’ The Dance Tree is an empowering story of female agency, female friendship, and enduring love. There is an urgency to the story that reaches out from the pages. The mania of the dancing plague, the even stronger fervour of control from the men who considered themselves in charge of stopping it; Lisbet’s own desperation and heartache to finally bring a pregnancy to term and have a live birth; Nethe’s penance and devotion to following her heart; Ida’s devastating sacrifice – all this is entwined and plays out on a personal level for these characters against a background of a community at breaking point. I particularly loved the way the author combined the religious intensity of the era with that of the mysticism that still lingered throughout society. It was interesting to see how people attempted to understand and control the mystic with religion – now, we can see scientific explanations for the climate issues and even the choreomania, but such knowledge was not available to people in the sixteenth century, hence, religion was all they had to rely upon. I highly recommend The Dance Tree. I thought it was brilliant, captivating, and deeply moving. Thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Verónica Fleitas Solich

    Exquisitely written and without a doubt, with characters that are a pleasure to meet, however, I must admit that it was difficult for me to follow this story and commit to the facts. With much sadness I must say that sometimes I was terribly bored. What I think is that it just wasn't a book for me. Too bad because I really wanted to like it. Exquisitely written and without a doubt, with characters that are a pleasure to meet, however, I must admit that it was difficult for me to follow this story and commit to the facts. With much sadness I must say that sometimes I was terribly bored. What I think is that it just wasn't a book for me. Too bad because I really wanted to like it.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Helen Carolan

    This was disappointing after the excellent first adult book. In a drought and starved Strasbourg women begin dancing in the main square. Not her best.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Rachael

    I have struggled to work out how to write this review, which is why I'm posting it later than I had planned. I've spent weeks avoiding it, unable to word what I'm trying to say. Let's put it this way: I first read KMH's middle-grade offering, The Way Past Winter, and I liked it well enough, but I wasn't blown away. So then I tried her adult offering, The Mercies, which I just didn't connect with at all. I then heard the premise of this one, it sounded so different and unusual, I was immediately o I have struggled to work out how to write this review, which is why I'm posting it later than I had planned. I've spent weeks avoiding it, unable to word what I'm trying to say. Let's put it this way: I first read KMH's middle-grade offering, The Way Past Winter, and I liked it well enough, but I wasn't blown away. So then I tried her adult offering, The Mercies, which I just didn't connect with at all. I then heard the premise of this one, it sounded so different and unusual, I was immediately obsessed and determined to give her another go... but again I felt disconnected from the characters, and my attention drifted. I'm sad because I WANT to love KMH's novels. I think they have a ton of merit, and I can quite see why people DO love her stories, but they just never gel quite right with me. Sadly, the (admittedly beautiful) prose just isn't for me. This may sound foolish, but I do still want to give her one last shot. Hear me out. I do feel that KMH writes differently depending on who she is writing for. The level of detail, the depth of emotion, the lyrical style... it all ramps up in her work written for adults, as compared to her work written for younger readers. So I figure that if her writing in her MG was too young for me to properly engage with, and her writing in her adult novels is too descriptive and lyrical for me to properly get lost in, then just MAYBE her YA is the way to go!? I do have The Deathless Girls on my tbr, so I'm determined to get to it someday and see. Overall I would say if you enjoyed The Mercies then I think you’ll enjoy this one too; if you didn’t enjoy The Mercies, then you’ll maybe like this one a little better…but will you love it? I think mileage will vary… if beautifully descriptive prose is something you enjoy then absolutely pick this one up! Thanks so much to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Ellis (whatellisreadnext)

    My heart aches. What a story. Also everyone who has been telling me to read a Kiran Millwood Hargrave book for years, feel free to message me saying I told you so.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Aria Harlow

    This was such a good book. I love historical fiction, especially when it is about eras/ situations that I previously knew nothing about and this was definitely one of those books. It was so well researched and so compelling in its narrative that not only did I love reading it but I felt that I learned too. A really enjoyable read and perfect for any fans of historical fiction.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Zuky the BookBum

    4.5* Why don’t I pick up more historical fiction when I almost ALWAYS love it?! This was beautiful, incredible and devastating! Millwood Hargrave's writing is magnificent writing. The time and place of the setting is described so vividly, you can feel yourself there experiencing the heat and claustrophobia Lisbet feels. There are so many themes explored throughout; religion, superstition, patriarchy, homophobia, racism, love, child loss, pain, and more. All were explored intensely but delicately, 4.5* Why don’t I pick up more historical fiction when I almost ALWAYS love it?! This was beautiful, incredible and devastating! Millwood Hargrave's writing is magnificent writing. The time and place of the setting is described so vividly, you can feel yourself there experiencing the heat and claustrophobia Lisbet feels. There are so many themes explored throughout; religion, superstition, patriarchy, homophobia, racism, love, child loss, pain, and more. All were explored intensely but delicately, with each theme blending and winding together as the story progresses. As much as I love historical fiction, sometimes I find it a bit heavy and hard to binge read, however I was enamoured by this story and found I couldn't fit it down. For a book about a spreading plague, it feels pretty fitting that I end up reading this in a feverish frenzy, desperate to find out how Lisbet's story would conclude. By the end, this one had absolutely torn me to shreds. I will be first in line to buy whatever Millwood Hargrave writes next. This story was compelling, painful and quietly beautiful. Despite all the anguish and pain, this book finds joy in unexpected connections and the quieter, simpler moments in life. Ad-gifted by Picador Books.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Tracey Allen at Carpe Librum

    In 1518, hundreds of people from Strasbourg started dancing uncontrollably without resting, sometimes for days on end. It was a medieval dancing plague where people danced until their feet bled and beyond, some of them literally danced themselves into an early grave. What compelled these people living in what we now call France to dance to their deaths? Why did they start? And why - or how - did they stop? Was it demonic possession? Fungus in their bread? Religious fervour? It's a mystery that's In 1518, hundreds of people from Strasbourg started dancing uncontrollably without resting, sometimes for days on end. It was a medieval dancing plague where people danced until their feet bled and beyond, some of them literally danced themselves into an early grave. What compelled these people living in what we now call France to dance to their deaths? Why did they start? And why - or how - did they stop? Was it demonic possession? Fungus in their bread? Religious fervour? It's a mystery that's always fascinated me. Now, Kiran Millwood Hargrave has given us The Dance Tree; an historical fiction novel about the dancing plague. Yes please!! I was so onboard for this, wondering what a skilled author would do with such unexplainable phenomena. Set in Strasbourg in 1518, the author did an excellent job depicting the town, homes and livelihoods of the residents. Much of the novel put me in mind of the start of Devotion by Hannah Kent, the beginning of The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue and The Familiars by Stacey Halls. The bare living conditions, the importance of religion in the community, the lack of agency held by the female characters and their resilience and sheer determination are elements I've enjoyed exploring in the past. Here, our main characters are Lisbet, Ida and Nethe and they're each making the best of their circumstances. Lisbet is a homemaker desperate for children and some of my favourite parts of the novel were passages where Lisbet tends to her beehives, her greatest passion in the world. The tree of the title is a special and sacred place, as we learn early on: "She’d recognised it instantly for what it was: a dance tree. A doom tree. A relic of the pagans who had their churches open under God." Page 39 The tree isn't crucial to the story, however it's significant to Lisbet and soon becomes a type of safe haven. When the women begin dancing in public, rumours quickly spread but Lisbet wants to see for herself. "Why do you think those women dance? Because there is no earthly way to be saved. You and Mutter [Mother] have told me enough times - Strasbourg is sliding Hellwards. And we women, we bear the brunt. We are bred or banished, and always, always damned. Prayers cannot help us, the priests will not help us." Page 153 The Dance Tree is inspired by true events, and just as in The Mercies (inspired by true events in a different country a century later in 1617), the author offers valuable information on the events contained within the novel in her Author's Note at the end. The Dance Tree by Kiran Millwood Hargrave is highly recommended for fans of historical fiction and I can't wait to find out what event in history she'll write about next. * Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan *

  20. 5 out of 5

    BookMadLibrarian

    We women, we bear the brunt. We are bred or banished, and always, always damned.’ In the blistering heat of the summer of 1518, a lone woman begins dancing feverishly in the Strasbourg’s city square. She dances for days, never taking a rest. Soon, she is joined by hundreds more and the authorities declare an emergency. Lisbet, a beekeeper who lives just outside Strasbourg with her husband and mother in law, is heavily pregnant. As the dancing plague gathers momentum, her sister in law Nethe return We women, we bear the brunt. We are bred or banished, and always, always damned.’ In the blistering heat of the summer of 1518, a lone woman begins dancing feverishly in the Strasbourg’s city square. She dances for days, never taking a rest. Soon, she is joined by hundreds more and the authorities declare an emergency. Lisbet, a beekeeper who lives just outside Strasbourg with her husband and mother in law, is heavily pregnant. As the dancing plague gathers momentum, her sister in law Nethe returns after being sentenced to seven years of penance for a crime that no one will tell Lisbet about. She is determined to uncover the truth, and finds that what lies hidden will have her dancing a very perilous tune. The Dance Tree is another beautifully written story by Hargrave. She expertly captures the mass hysteria and superstitious nature of people at this time, a result of her impeccable research into this time period. The lyrical quality of Hargrave’s writing reminds me of another of her novels, The Mercies. There are a number of connections between these two stories in terms of the subject matter and themes addressed. Both are character-driven and examine the contemporary attitudes towards the LGBTQI+ community. The theme of female friendship and kinship is also paramount in both stories. Tension is palpable throughout the story and Hargrave deals with the subjects outlined above as well as other serious themes such as misogyny, homophobia, infertility, miscarriage, religious trauma and domestic abuse to name but a few. Hargrave doesn’t shy away from looking at poignant themes. As always, Hargrave’s characters are three-dimensional with their flaws, virtues and emotions expertly transcribed onto the page. Lisbet is my favourite character, a woman who has endured so much loss and heartache trying to being a baby into the world. Her resilience and that of the other characters to be free to be themselves is one of the standout aspects of this book. One of my favourite elements in the book is the Dance Tree, her safe harbour, her place of solace and refuge which she extends to others in the ultimate act of human compassion and friendship. Hargrave has breathed humanity into an obscure and little-known historical event, creating a story that is truly beautiful and heartbreaking in equal measure. And I am glad of how Lisbet’s story ends and how Hargrave, even in a time of great personal tragedy, could write something as enthralling and touching as this story. Five stars ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ The Dance Tree will be published on May 12th. Thanks to NetGalley and publishers for the arc.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    Kiran Millwood Hargrave's second novel for adults, The Dance Tree, focuses on the 'dance plague' in Strasbourg in 1518, when there was an outbreak of compulsive dancing that lasted for months. As Hargrave outlines in her afterword, historians still aren't sure what caused this plague: whether it was poisoning by the hallucinatory ergot in rye or mass religious hysteria. The Dance Tree looks at the dance plague from a sideways angle, as the book is narrated by Lisbet, a young married woman who li Kiran Millwood Hargrave's second novel for adults, The Dance Tree, focuses on the 'dance plague' in Strasbourg in 1518, when there was an outbreak of compulsive dancing that lasted for months. As Hargrave outlines in her afterword, historians still aren't sure what caused this plague: whether it was poisoning by the hallucinatory ergot in rye or mass religious hysteria. The Dance Tree looks at the dance plague from a sideways angle, as the book is narrated by Lisbet, a young married woman who lives outside Strasbourg and is struggling with recurrent pregnancy loss. When the book opens, she is heavily pregnant with another child, and awaiting the return of her husband's sister Agnethe, who was banished to do penance in a nunnery for seven years, although Lisbet does not know why. The dance plague therefore acts as a kind of thematic background to Lisbet's story rather than as the main driving force of the book. My experience of reading The Dance Tree changed as the book went on. I found the first third captivating: Hargrave's attention to the physical details of Lisbet's life made her world feel real, and I loved the evocative, gentle accounts of her love for beekeeping and her visits to the 'dance tree', where she has hung ribbons as a memorial for her dead babies. It felt like a vastly more successful version of what Hannah Kent was aiming for in the opening of Devotion. Then, the second third of the novel sagged, as it takes too long for Lisbet to discover the truth of why Agnethe was sent away; but this was followed by a gripping final third, which certainly restored the novel's pace but lost some of the quiet simplicity I liked at the start. By the end, I felt like The Dance Tree was less original than I had hoped it would be, and not as good as Hargrave's previous adult novel The Mercies; it's disappointing to see the (view spoiler)[Bury Your Gays (hide spoiler)] trope turning up yet again, and while I liked Lisbet, sticking largely to her perspective did make it feel like some of the more interesting bits of the story were happening elsewhere. 3.5 stars. I received a free proof copy of this novel from the publisher for review.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Pamela Usai

    CW/TW: miscarriage, graphic violence, homophobia, domestic violence, misogyny, torture, death I'll try to keep this one short, as many have already espoused the exquisiteness of this novel. An incredible work on historical (feminist) fiction, Millwood Hargrave anchors The Dance Tree in the events of The Dancing Plague of 1518 in Strasbourg. Our protagonist, Lisbet, is a housewife-beekeeper who is struggling to carry a child to term, and heartbreakingly lays the children she loses under a pagan Da CW/TW: miscarriage, graphic violence, homophobia, domestic violence, misogyny, torture, death I'll try to keep this one short, as many have already espoused the exquisiteness of this novel. An incredible work on historical (feminist) fiction, Millwood Hargrave anchors The Dance Tree in the events of The Dancing Plague of 1518 in Strasbourg. Our protagonist, Lisbet, is a housewife-beekeeper who is struggling to carry a child to term, and heartbreakingly lays the children she loses under a pagan Dance Tree. She is swept up in the mania of the dancing plague, which consumes more and more (predominantly) female members of the community, to the point of hysteria, exhaustion and even death. Surrounding this are deeply embedded themes of misogyny and homophobia (usual for the time) and the overwhelming discomfort of an increasingly warmer season. ( I could feel the baking heat while reading). Millwood Hargrave's storytelling is beautiful. From complex characters, to well-timed pacing of plot events, to unexpected reveals, The Dance Tree was un-put-downable. I am a huge fan of The Mercies - another work of historical fiction inspired by the infamous Norwegian witch trials of 1662-1663 - and The Dance Tree follows in a similar vein, shining a light on historically disenfranchised women. Highly, highly, recommended. Thank you Book Break UK, Picador Books and Kiran Millwood Hargrave for a review copy in exchange for an honest review.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Rowena

    In the blistering heat of the summer of 1518, a lone woman begins to dance and is soon followed by hundreds more. Lisbet tends to the bees just outside the city walls, heavily pregnant. After seven years in the mountains, her husband's sister, Agnethe returns. And no one will tell Lisbet why Agnethe served a penance there. Everyone seems in on the secret except her. And in the midst of secrecy, and hysteria about the dancing plague, the farm is threatened. The only respite Lisbet gets from all the In the blistering heat of the summer of 1518, a lone woman begins to dance and is soon followed by hundreds more. Lisbet tends to the bees just outside the city walls, heavily pregnant. After seven years in the mountains, her husband's sister, Agnethe returns. And no one will tell Lisbet why Agnethe served a penance there. Everyone seems in on the secret except her. And in the midst of secrecy, and hysteria about the dancing plague, the farm is threatened. The only respite Lisbet gets from all these worries is her dance tree. But as the summer crawls on, a dangerous love approaches and secrets begin to spill. I did not want this to end. I loved the careful craft of Hargrave's writing. The emotion that split my heart. The Dance Tree is written with a tenderness, almost like an ode to anyone who knows the struggles of miscarriage and want for children. The delicacy of religion and what it meant in medieval/renaissance for a woman, and for the LGBTQ+ community. For anyone outside of the Holy Roman Empire. With each novel that Hargrave writes, I find a strengthening. She knows the stories she wants to tell, pictures the way the characters relate to the readers, how the plot moves the reader forward and comments on society. Lisbet is a force to be reckoned with, a majestic character with so many layers that you just want to peel away and find her core. For me personally, The Dance Tree is Kiran Millwood Hargrave's best novel yet.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Lottie

    If you enjoyed The Mercies then you will love Hargrave’s second adult novel - a story of ordinary women, suppressed and ignored, finding life through extraordinary moments in history. Men once again play a very important role in this feminist fiction novel but unlike The Mercies we actually get to know these men and they feel a lot more nuanced which makes what they do and don’t do all the more significant. Poetic and melodic, we are never too far from the same atmospheric flourish that The Merc If you enjoyed The Mercies then you will love Hargrave’s second adult novel - a story of ordinary women, suppressed and ignored, finding life through extraordinary moments in history. Men once again play a very important role in this feminist fiction novel but unlike The Mercies we actually get to know these men and they feel a lot more nuanced which makes what they do and don’t do all the more significant. Poetic and melodic, we are never too far from the same atmospheric flourish that The Mercies brought us. Any one who, like myself, is obsessed with the weird and wonderful side of history will already know about the well documented Dance Plague - but if you don’t then get ready for a ride. Four women centre this novel as we discover the strange and tragic lives of the women in 16th century Strasbourg who are suddenly entrapped in this supernatural dance plague. Misogyny, infertility and mental health are explored through this mystical story and the characters feel well rounded and grounded in reality. As Nature and the supernatural find balance, once again we are treated to Hargrave’s nuanced prose and powerful dialogue as she builds these relationships from the elements of the setting. The heat and the dirt, the bees and the sky become building blocks in her pitch perfect style and pace. Although I preferred the central relationships in The Mercies, there is the same careful consideration and understanding - Hargrave has found her niche in feminist historical retellings.

  25. 4 out of 5

    thewoollygeek (tea, cake, crochet & books)

    This book is stunning, incredible and I have found it hard to get out of my head since I read it. The Dance Tree is based on the dancing plague that struck Strasbourg in 1518, where dozens of women danced - literally - to their deaths. I mean if that topic doesn’t vaguely catch your interest then I’m not sure I can help you ! I mean this is a part of time that’s fascinating, grim at times, but thoroughly addictive as always Hargrave’s’ writing is beautiful, enthralling, heartbreaking and devasta This book is stunning, incredible and I have found it hard to get out of my head since I read it. The Dance Tree is based on the dancing plague that struck Strasbourg in 1518, where dozens of women danced - literally - to their deaths. I mean if that topic doesn’t vaguely catch your interest then I’m not sure I can help you ! I mean this is a part of time that’s fascinating, grim at times, but thoroughly addictive as always Hargrave’s’ writing is beautiful, enthralling, heartbreaking and devastating all at once, she really has such a talent. As usual this features complex and interesting, amazing women and the patriarchy, added to it that you include religious fanaticism and you have a book that will definitely stir your emotions. The characters in this are still with me and I have a feeling will be for a long time. I definitely recommend to anyone who is a fan of historical fiction and interested in women/feminism and the patriarchy Thanks to netgalley and the publisher for a free copy for an honest opinion

  26. 4 out of 5

    Bianca (Belladonnabooks)

    A truly enchanting read. I enjoyed the Mercies and the Dance Tree was no exception. Kiran Millwood Hargrave has a way of captivating a reader from beginning to end. There were so many aspects of this story that I enjoyed. The historical events of the plague, the incorporation of the bees, the folklore and the relationships to name just a few. Like the Mercies, women and their relationships are front and centre of The Dance Tree. This was a profoundly moving and emotional story and I adored the w A truly enchanting read. I enjoyed the Mercies and the Dance Tree was no exception. Kiran Millwood Hargrave has a way of captivating a reader from beginning to end. There were so many aspects of this story that I enjoyed. The historical events of the plague, the incorporation of the bees, the folklore and the relationships to name just a few. Like the Mercies, women and their relationships are front and centre of The Dance Tree. This was a profoundly moving and emotional story and I adored the way Kiran wove the historical events with fiction. Thank you so much to Pan MacMillan for providing with an ARC of this book to read and review in advance.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Allie

    I loved this book. It captivated me from the first page. It was not only well written, but such a unique time in history I knew nothing about

  28. 4 out of 5

    Art Hyrst

    Full review on my blog from 11th May 2022: https://inkandplasma.com/2022/05/11/t... Thanks to Picador for the eARC of this book. It has not affected my honest review. Character - 10 Atmosphere - 9 Writing - 10 Plot - 10 Intrigue - 9 Logic - 9 Enjoyment - 10 Rating: 9.57 / 5 stars -- THE DANCE TREE has Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s incredibly beautiful prose, with gorgeous descriptions that flow so easily it’s impossible to put down. This book stands out because there is so much personal experience packed into Full review on my blog from 11th May 2022: https://inkandplasma.com/2022/05/11/t... Thanks to Picador for the eARC of this book. It has not affected my honest review. Character - 10 Atmosphere - 9 Writing - 10 Plot - 10 Intrigue - 9 Logic - 9 Enjoyment - 10 Rating: 9.57 / 5 stars -- THE DANCE TREE has Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s incredibly beautiful prose, with gorgeous descriptions that flow so easily it’s impossible to put down. This book stands out because there is so much personal experience packed into the tale. The author has been very open with her family’s struggles with pregnancy loss, and that’s a key part of Lisbet’s story. Lisbet’s miscarriages are a hugely significant part of her life and it influences her every day. It’s heartbreaking to read the way she’s forced to grieve silently for her lost children, and it’s so clear that Kiran Millwood Hargrave here is writing her experiences into Lisbet’s life. It makes for a powerful read, emotional and raw, and I could feel Lisbet’s fear and stress as she spends the book more heavily pregnant than she’s ever been before. I said with THE MERCIES that I loved how character-driven it was, and the same is true of THE DANCE TREE. We have Lisbet, our main character; Agnethe, her newfound sister-in-law; Ida, her best friend; Eren, the musician brought in to help with the dancing plague; and Sophey, the mother-in-law I ended up loving far more than I expected. I fell in love with each and every one of these characters and their relationships, but my favourites were Lisbet and Agnethe. They’ve never met, with Lisbet and Henne marrying after Agnethe was sent away for seven years of penitence, but from the first day they find a sense of kinship and loyalty. I loved the way they behaved together and their conversations, even when they had quiet moments eating side-by-side, I was utterly invested. Between that, and Lisbet and Ida’s close friendship, this book felt like it was celebrating female friendship in its rawest form. It becomes clear very early in the book that Agnethe’s ‘sin’ is loving another woman, though it takes Lisbet a lot longer to work it out. Agnethe’s story broke my heart. As a lesbian, I wanted so much for her, and there was a section where Agnethe talked about her love – and the way people called it a sin – that made me highlight practically everything she said for several pages. I felt seen in ways I didn’t expect, and every stolen moment of joy that Agnethe found called to every time I’ve talked around my sexuality in my life. THE DANCE TREE is set against the backdrop of the dancing plague of 1518 in Strasbourg, with brief biographies of the dancing women threaded throughout, but it wasn’t a huge part of the plot really. It was very much focused on Lisbet’s life and her family, but the discussion of the dancing plague felt very carefully researched and well-described. I wasn’t that interested in the short chapters about the other women, so invested in Lisbet’s story, but it did add context to the plague. The whole setting was obviously lovingly researched, and everything from the way that Lisbet handled the bees (rosemary smoke, brilliant) to the intense religious pressure felt by everyone felt like it was authentic and well handled. The religious trauma in this book is huge, as oppressive and significant as it would have been in Lisbet’s life. Alef Plater – the new Absalom fucking Cornet – is a man power-mad and certain that he speaks the word of god. I hated him. I hated what he stood for, and everything he did, and every time he appeared I felt my stomach drop in the same way I’m sure Lisbet and Agnethe did when they heard his voice. I absolutely sobbed at the end of this book. It was such a beautiful ending, though it absolutely broke my heart. I might have wanted a slightly different ending, but that was the ending we needed. It was the right ending for the characters, for their arc, and I can’t fault it. But I am very fragile and very gay. I read this all in one long burst, staying in bed until I’d finished it (and afterwards, as I cried all over the cat). I can’t recommend this enough, I’ve loved many of Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s books but this? This is the best yet and I can’t wait to see what comes next.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Helen

    Having enjoyed Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s previous book, The Mercies, I was looking forward to reading more of her work. This new novel, The Dance Tree, sounded very different, but equally intriguing. It’s set in 16th century Strasbourg during a plague of dancing – yes, dancing, which sounds harmless but, as the novel shows, is anything but. The Dance Tree begins in 1518 and introduces us to Lisbet, a young pregnant woman, who lives with her husband and mother-in-law. Lisbet has already lost sever Having enjoyed Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s previous book, The Mercies, I was looking forward to reading more of her work. This new novel, The Dance Tree, sounded very different, but equally intriguing. It’s set in 16th century Strasbourg during a plague of dancing – yes, dancing, which sounds harmless but, as the novel shows, is anything but. The Dance Tree begins in 1518 and introduces us to Lisbet, a young pregnant woman, who lives with her husband and mother-in-law. Lisbet has already lost several babies and is determined to carry this one to full term; while her pregnancy advances she finds comfort in looking after the bees that provide the family’s livelihood and visiting the tree she has decorated in memory of her lost children. One day, Lisbet’s sister-in-law, Agnethe, comes home from the nunnery where she has been doing penance for the last seven years; Lisbet has no idea what the sin was that resulted in Agnethe being sent away, but she does know that her return has changed the dynamics within the household and that life will not be quite the same again. Meanwhile, in the centre of Strasbourg, Frau Troffea walks into a market square, lifts up her hands and begins to dance. She is soon joined by more women…and more…and more, all of them dancing until the soles of their feet bleed. As the women continue to dance day after day – a desperate, frenzied dance that shows no sign of coming to an end – the authorities try to bring them under control, without success. I knew nothing about the dancing plague before reading this book, so I found that aspect of the novel fascinating. Many theories have been put forward over the years to explain why the women danced, ranging from demonic possession or religious trance to ergot poisoning or mass hysteria. Even today, historians don’t know for sure what was behind the epidemic, but to help us understand some of the possible reasons, Kiran Millwood Hargrave provides back stories for some of the individual dancers. These stories are presented as brief chapters interspersed between Lisbet’s chapters, and although I thought they could have been better integrated into the novel as a whole, they were interesting to read. I liked Lisbet and had a lot of sympathy for her situation, and also for her best friend, Ida, who is married to a controlling bully who belongs to the ‘Twenty One’, the group of men who rule the city. Agnethe is another intriguing character, although I found the reason for her seven-year penance too easy to guess. However, despite finding the characters interesting, I didn’t manage to form the deep emotional connection with any of them that I would have liked. I’m not sure why this should be, because Hargrave does write beautifully, except that I often find the use of present tense very distancing and I think that was the case here. Although I didn’t love this book as much as I hoped, I would recommend Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s books to readers interested in historical fiction dealing with women’s lives in unusual settings and circumstances – in this book, the Strasbourg dancing plague, and in The Mercies, the witch trials on the Norwegian island of Vardø.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Pan Macmillan Australia

    Lisbet, Ida and Agnethe are women caught up in the poverty, desperation, misogyny and religious oppression of the early 16th century in Strasbourg (now part of modern-day France). Their lives are totally dominated by men, whether they are father, brother, husband or religious and political leaders. Lisbet has recently married Henne and brought to live in his house with himself and his mother but the few years they have been together has been marred by her inability to carry a child full term so Lisbet, Ida and Agnethe are women caught up in the poverty, desperation, misogyny and religious oppression of the early 16th century in Strasbourg (now part of modern-day France). Their lives are totally dominated by men, whether they are father, brother, husband or religious and political leaders. Lisbet has recently married Henne and brought to live in his house with himself and his mother but the few years they have been together has been marred by her inability to carry a child full term so her love is given to the bees she tends for the family’s income. Henne’s sister then returns home shaved and malnourished after 5 years of ‘penance’ in the mountains, the reason for which she won’t speak of. Ida has been Lisbet’s best friend since her marriage and she tries hard not to be jealous of her brood of children, but she also has sympathy for her, married to a bullying brute who is also a member of the rule-enforcing ‘Twenty One’. One day a woman starts dancing in the square. It is a wild abandoned dance and she will not stop to eat or rest. Her feet start bleeding and yet she still will not stop. More women join her in her tormented gyrations and the authorities are at a loss about what to do. They start beating the women to get them to stop, then bring in musicians thinking that by encouraging them they will eventually tire, then dragging them to holy springs to rid them of the devils inside. Like her first adult novel, The Mercies, this is also based on a true story. The Dance Plague of 1518 is well documented and theories range from religious mania and demonic possession to food poisoning or madness. Even modern scholars don’t understand fully the hysteria that began suddenly and finally stopped a few months later. Accounts of a ‘dancing plague’ are recorded as happening in many parts of Europe around this time. - Leanne

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