Here’s the blurb:
‘There is no me; there is no you.
There is only us.’
The Maids of Biddenden is inspired by the real-life story of conjoined twins Mary and Eliza Chulkhurst, born in 1100 into a wealthy family from a small Kent village.
Joined at the hip, the sisters overcome fear and hostility to grow into gifted and much-loved women – one a talented musician and song-writer, the other a caring healer and grower of medicinal plants. Entangled in the struggles for power and influence of the great Kent nobles of the time, they achieve much in their lifetimes and leave behind a legacy in Biddenden that survives to this day.
This is the heart-warming and inspirational story of two remarkable women leading one joint life, challenging adversity to become the best they can be.
The Maids of Biddenden is that rare beast which entirely absorbs the reader from page one. Helped by a flowing style of writing, and the immediate and impending danger that the twins find themselves in as six-year-olds, the reader is entirely absorbed in the story, and their fate, so much so that it’s difficult to put the book down. That said, it is not just the twins themselves that drive the story – the people they interact with, those with their best and worst interests at heart – are all believable and well written, and there are occasions when the reader will be left frustrated and angered that some seem to face little punishment for their actions. The story has a number of points of view, and I found that they all worked very well – offering a view of the twins as they think of themselves, and also as others perceived them.
The story is effectively split in two; the first 45% tells the story of the Maids as young children. This element of the story is filled with a deep sense of foreboding that drives the story onward and makes the reader fearful for the future of the Maids. The narrative then moves forward a few years, and we see them as young women, trying to make a name for themselves and use their talents for good. At this point, the immediate landscape that the Maids encounter broadens considerably, and we move away from the nunnery and the settlement of Biddenden, into the politics and events of the early twelfth century, that almost consume the lives of the Maids for the remainder of their years – they lived during the time of the tragedy of the White Ship.
The story doesn’t so much lose focus here, but because the impending danger has passed, the reader is instead absorbed in how the twins accomplish all that they do. There is a great deal of attention to detail here – both medical knowledge and music – and it’s fascinating to see how the Maids’ lives interact with known events from the period.
This is a delightful story. I was entirely engrossed and found myself snatching what time I could to carry on reading it – something that doesn’t happen all that often. I highly, highly recommend The Maids of Biddenden for fans of historical fiction, and also for those who don’t normally read the genre. The challenges that the twins face are well told, and the reaction their appearance sparks are conveyed well, although as the reader you will be offended by the prevailing belief that they are Godless and a monstrosity, and the fact that they were a ‘sight to see’ as opposed to always being appreciated for who they were and what they could accomplish. The historical notes at the back of the novel are also fascinating.
A truly heart-warming story.
Meet the author
I became a full-time author in 2016, publishing three novels under the pen name GD Harper. I have been both a Wishing Shelf Book Award finalist and Red Ribbon winner, been shortlisted for the Lightship Prize, longlisted for the UK Novel Writing Award and longlisted for the Page Turner Writer Award. The Maids of Biddenden was a finalist in this year’s Page Turner Book Award for unpublished manuscripts, longlisted for the Exeter Book Prize and the Flash 500 Novel Award, and shortlisted for the Impress Prize.
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