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Jennifer Sherman Roberts Books In Order

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The Village Healer's Book of Cures (2023)Description / Buy at Amazon

Jennifer Sherman Roberts
Jennifer Sherman Roberts holds a PhD in Renaissance literature from the University of Minnesota.

Jennifer got interested in early modern recipes and recipe books in general while researching the medicinal properties of folk cures. She’s written about early modern recipes on the academic blog The Recipes Project, and has worked with Oregon Humanities facilitating conversation projects about the historical roots and cultural implications of the recipe genre.

Jennifer is also a fierce library advocate, aspiring mead maker, and occasional knitter that lives in southern Oregon, where the beer’s hoppy, the mountains are tall, and the lakes are crystal clear.

The idea for “The Village Healer’s Book of Cures” kinda crystalized while she was doing this conversation project with Oregon Humanities called “Stone Soup: How Recipes Can Preserve History and Nourish Community”. They were discussing this seventeenth century healing recipe for “The Biting of a Mad Dogge” which required crabapple be harvested at a certain time in the year, and one of the participants noted that it kinda sounded witchy. It gelled in her mind with a blog post she had been writing about Witchfinder General Matthew Hopkins, et voila!

The book had originally been titled “The Cunning Woman’s Book of Receipts”, but was changed because there was another book published that had too similar a title.

Having read so much from this period, she believes she has an easier time of replicating the rhythms and cadence of 17th century English. As a novelist, she must be careful that this does not sound too stilted to a modern reader. This is why, for example, she uses contractions in the novel. To be totally faithful to the language of this time would mean pulling the reader out of the story. There is a fine balance and a bit of a dance to do both.

She loved doing research for the novel. The humoral medical theory, history of the English civil war, the use of herbals and medicinals, and as much as she was able to absorb about everyday life in a small 17th century village. She also read a bunch about witches (especially Owen Davies’s fantastic work) and alchemy.

She is fascinated with how the recipe books from this period are a jumble of perfume, food, and medical cookery. In the modern world, we have codified and separated each of these areas in the modern world, and getting to see them side by side, she believes, leads one to think of the ways these discrete areas can intertwine.

Jennifer is fascinated as well by how these recipes appear to resemble some alchemical instructions and healing potions as they presage modern chemistry. She thought about such a continuum as she wrote Mary, who has such a deep thirst to know about the efficacy of any of her cures.

It might be a modern take, and it might be that Jennifer is imposing a thirst to find the causes of things on her characters, but she doesn’t think so. The novel’s set during the Scientific Revolution’s start, after all, and not that long after Francis Bacon famously called for a new way of understanding knowledge. Jennifer believes that such a drive to understand cannot have just been exclusive to the aristocratic and the elite. She figured that a woman hunting for herbs and cooking for long hours would surely want to know whether (and why) they even worked.

The medical ideas which had been circulating for centuries, particularly the four humors (black bile, yellow bile, blood, and phlegm) point to this desire to comprehend the fundamental working of these materials inside the body, and indeed the recipes make reference to bile, phlegm, and blood. There’s a lot of evidence that men thought in such ways at this time, however since almost all women had been forbidden to circulate their own ideas in writing, there’s no way to share their thinking so easily. This is Jennifer’s way of imagining what it had to have been like.

“The Village Healer’s Book of Cures” is the first stand alone novel and was released in 2023. England, during the 17th century. This female healer enflames the fury of this witchfinder in a propulsive novel about revenge, murder, and the dangerous power of knowledge.

Mary Fawcett refines the healing recipes that she has inherited from generations of women that came before her; in a moral and uncanny calling to empathize with the sick. When Matthew Hopkins (a witchfinder) arrives in her small village, stoking the fires of hate, he is able to see the devil at work, not healing. Mary’s benevolent skills have now cast her and her little brother under suspicion of witchery.

Before long, one of her patient’s husband gets murdered, with his body having been carved with some strange symbols. For Matthew, this is just further proof of dark arts. When this whispering village turns against her, she dares trust a stranger: this enigmatic alchemist, scarred soul and body, who knows this dead man’s secrets.

While Hopkins’ fervor continues to escalate, Mary has to outsmart the devil himself in order to save her own life and the lives of those that she loves. Unfolding the real potential of her gifts could make Mary a more empowered adversary than a witchfinder had ever feared.

Readers discovered a character that is now one of their favorite heroines, in a suspenseful read with characters to root for, an intriguing mystery to be solved, and quite a well rendered historical atmosphere to savor. This is a firecracker of a debut, one packed with well researched historical details, a tense mystery, and some twists readers never saw coming. Mary is a strong and independent woman that is trapped in a gender-centric panic, and is the perfect character to take the reader on this perilous journey, one which could almost happen today. She is an unforgettable heroine, and Jennifer’s own nimble prose enchants the reader with its honesty. She delivers a wise, exquisite, and ambitious debut novel.

This is a stunning achievement in historical fiction, as it is by turns a work of luminous beauty and is a harrowingly dark exploration of the perilous role that cunning women played in a society that was rife with suspicion.

Book Series In Order » Authors » Jennifer Sherman Roberts

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