THE FROZEN RIVER by Ariel Lawhon

THE FROZEN RIVER is a gripping blend of historical fiction, thriller, and women’s fiction. From the first few minutes of the audiobook, I was immersed in a brutal Maine winter, the harsh realities of frontier life, a gruesome murder, and one of history’s unsung heroines: Martha Ballard, an 18th-century healer and midwife.

An author’s note at the end sifts truth from fiction, but being a history nerd, I also went down the research rabbit hole. No spoilers, but the court case at the heart of the novel is grounded in fact. So are the diary entries that chronicle Martha’s life and work.

When the novel opens, Martha is called to examine the body of a young man found below the ice in the Kennebec river. Multiple injuries suggest murder. Her search for answers to his wounds reveals disturbing events in the community. The relentless winter weather amplifies an ugly story of rape and men abusing power.

You can feel darkness and danger closing around Martha. Sightings of a rare silver fox add to the suspense. Several of the scenes caused my heart to race, and there’s more than one twist.

Martha is a formidable woman in a world ruled by men. I loved that she was an older heroine grappling with an aging body and relationships with her grown children. She’s close to her eldest son, who’s treated as a social outcast because of a disability, but struggles to understand her second eldest son.

Ephraim, her husband, is a phenomenal secondary character. Fiercely loyal and devoted to his wife, he’s not above calling her out for being judgmental. (Martha is ruled by a strong sense of justice and has a stubborn streak.) He also taught her to read and write as a newly-wed, and he quotes Shakespeare. *Sigh.*

Their ongoing love affair, revealed through flashbacks that include the loss of three children to diphtheria, was my favorite part of the novel. But honestly? I loved everything about Ariel Lawhon’s latest.

Leave a Comment