Alanna Rhee believes that all mothers deserve to deliver safely, even the monsters of the world. As a human enslaved to the fairies of Aerin, she made a pact with the king when she was just a child. She signed in blood. After studying midwifery, and for ten years attending to the most dangerous births of other magical creatures -earning wealth and prestige for the kingdom- she would win her freedom. With three years left to serve, multiple fairy kingdoms are on the brink of war. Queen Esmera of the Westlands is hated, feared, and called a ‘classless woman’. Worse still, she carries a child with no father, conceived from a deal with an ‘Old God’. Not knowing what deformities the baby may show, only the most experienced midwife in the land will do.
Alanna is trusted by all. She is asked to attend to Esmera. She is also asked not to intervene in the difficult birth, and by her inaction, to cause death. Alanna must decide if even her freedom is worth the horror of allowing a woman to die in her most vulnerable moment.
When I saw Monster Midwife, I had to pick it up. You see, my mom is a midwife. And while that doesn’t make me an expert by association or anything, it does mean that I grew up surrounded by midwifery, pregnancy, and birthing. So, I was curious how it would play out among the supernaturals.
Having finished it now, I find that I have very middle of the road feelings about the book. On one hand, I really like Alanna. I liked her dedication to women and children. I liked the complexity of her situation—a slave, more privileged than most, and painfully aware of it, but still a slave. I liked the romantic interest and I thought the writing readable and the story engaging.
On the other hand, I found the prince’s shift in demeanor too dramatic. Sure, abusers are often charismatic, but I feel like Alanna was too smart to have missed the signs for so long if he was truly so vile underneath. And…I’m not even sure how to phrase this second point (especially without spoilers)…while I liked Alanna and it was nice to see the commoner (socially less than a commoner, actually, a slave) get to be center stage, instead of the royals, Queen Esmera and her story feels like it would have been the more interesting one. Alanna helped Esmere facilitate the delivery of her god’s child, sure. But Esmere went and sought out a god, made a deal to birth a societally changing demi-god. She showed agency, determination and grit. It feels odd to focus on Alanna and her comparatively small drama when that big one is sitting IN THE BACKGROUND.
Despite that, I enjoyed Monster Midwife and would happily read more of Reese’s writing.