The Alewives

A plague-era tale of murder, friendship, and fine ale

Fiction - Mystery - Historical
266 Pages
Reviewed on 01/22/2023
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Shrabastee Chakraborty for Readers' Favorite

The aftermath of the bubonic plague, dubbed the great pestilence, was a difficult time for everyone. It was especially tough for Appel and Efi, who lost their families to the plague. Lacking any means to feed her drunk husband and twelve children, Gritta faced a different obstacle. The trio decides to make a living by selling ale. However, in a male-dominated world, nobody tolerates three independent women. In the meantime, the women of Colmar are turning up dead. Although the Sheriff declares each death an accident, the alewives suspect that a more dangerous game is afoot. Can they convince the authorities that someone is murdering innocent women? Can they keep their little business afloat without male intervention? Why is a monk with unusual quirks suddenly interested in them? To know more, read The Alewives by Elizabeth R. Andersen.

In this slice-of-life novel set in the fourteenth century, Elizabeth R. Andersen transports us to an entirely different era. We get an authentic portrayal of how ordinary people lived. Andersen’s detailed and accurate descriptions, including the polluted water of the tannery, the public bathhouses, and the nightly reminders from the watchman to extinguish the fire, made the setting realistic. The novel opens our eyes to the plight of women at the time. An unmarried woman would be considered a sinner or accused of witchcraft, although no one would bat an eye if she faced domestic violence. While everyone quickly judged a woman for deviating from the set social norms, nobody cared if she died an unexpected death. I loved how Gritta, Appel, and Efi strived to create a place for themselves in such an adverse world. Their sharp business acumen, resourcefulness, and presence of mind helped them enormously. I loved their free spirits and the strong friendship that kept them together. Andersen has woven a thread of subtle humor into the storyline. Appel and Gritta’s playful banter and Efi’s antics kept me entertained. I recommend The Alewives to anyone wishing to read a perfect blend of a historical fiction novel and a cozy mystery.