I was very intrigued by this book inspired by the real-life story of conjoined twins in the 12th century. Thanks to Kelly at Love Books Tours for having me as part of the tour and for providing a copy of the book for review.
About the book
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.
There is some debate about whether the Maids of Biddenden really did exist and how much of their story is a mix of folktales or history. There certainly seems to be some evidence for their existence with the village of Biddenden in Kent to this day having a charity which distributes cheese, bread and Biddenden cakes from funds raised from the sale of the Bread and Cheese Lands, purported to have been owned by Mary and Eliza Chulkhurst.
Whether they existed or not, what we have here is compelling tale of what it might have been like to live as conjoined twins in 12th century England. In a time when anything out of the ordinary was regarded as suspicious and the work of the devil, it is quite extraordinary that Mary and Eliza not only survived but thrived into adulthood. The author gives us a great insight into the beliefs, fears and customs of 12th century people.
I was so interested to read about the religious beliefs of the time and how much influence the Church had on everyday life. Medical knowledge was very limited of course and we see how even a rudimentary knowledge of healing was so important. In terms of characters, it was good to read about how Eliza and Mary grew from children feared and hidden away, into well educated and intelligent women, valued for their individual skills and talents. With some of the chapters being narrated from their individual points of view, we do get to know them as two very distinct personalities. I would imagine that the sisters could have been separated relatively easily these days but any such attempt would have been fatal back then.
I have to admit that I don’t particularly like the cover of this one but the old adage ‘never judge a book by the cover‘ is definitely true here. This is a moving and engaging read. The Maids of Biddenden is both fascinating and well-written historical fiction and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
About the author
I became a full-time self-published 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.