Friday, April 5, 2024

Book Review: The Frozen River by Ariel Lawhon

Pages: 448
Genre: Adult Historical Fiction
Pub. Date: December 5, 2023
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday
Source: Personal Copy
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "Maine, 1789: When the Kennebec River freezes, entombing a man in the ice, Martha Ballard is summoned to examine the body and determine cause of death. As a midwife and healer, she is privy to much of what goes on behind closed doors in Hallowell. Her diary is a record of every birth and death, crime and debacle that unfolds in the close-knit community. Months earlier, Martha documented the details of an alleged rape committed by two of the town’s most respected gentlemen—one of whom has now been found dead in the ice. But when a local physician undermines her conclusion, declaring the death to be an accident, Martha is forced to investigate the shocking murder on her own.

Over the course of one winter, as the trial nears, and whispers and prejudices mount, Martha doggedly pursues the truth. Her diary soon lands at the center of the scandal, implicating those she loves, and compelling Martha to decide where her own loyalties lie.

Clever, layered, and subversive, Ariel Lawhon’s newest offering introduces an unsung heroine who refused to accept anything less than justice at a time when women were considered best seen and not heard. The Frozen River is a thrilling, tense, and tender story about a remarkable woman who left an unparalleled legacy yet remains nearly forgotten to this day."

Martha Ballard is a midwife in Maine in 1789. Her children are grown, but she is happy with her what she does to help her community and her marriage. She can proudly boast that she has never lost a mother in labor or delivery. Things change in town though with the arrival of a Harvard-educated doctor and all-around jerk who questions Martha's abilities and is disrespectful to women in general. Martha has had to clean up his messes more than once, and he feels a lot of animosity towards her. A few months prior, one of Martha's patients, Rebecca, came to her after a brutal rape. She is accusing Joshua Burgess and Col. Joseph North of raping her when her husband was away and now she has ended up pregnant. The court systems during the time let her down, but now Joshua, one of the accused rapists, has shown up dead in the frozen river. Martha examines the body and it appears he was killed brutally. As the town tries to figure out who killed Joshua, things get even more complicated. Martha's son was seen fighting with Joshua before his death, Col. North is the judge in town, and Martha finds she has to testify and her trusty diary is a major source of information. Ariel Lawhon's The Frozen River is perfect for readers who like historical novels with a side of mystery and strong female protagonists.

I liked Martha from the get-go in The Frozen River and to find that she is based on a real-life woman makes it that much more enjoyable. I admired her courage and dedication to the women of the town as well as her quest for justice. She reminded me of Claire Fraser from Outlander and in the best way possible. It's nice to see a smart and capable female heroine in her fifties. Once she finds herself testifying in the court case, how can readers not root for her? 

Lawhon also did an outstanding job bringing early America to life. I felt like the town, along with its citizens, the river, and the different establishments in town practically jumped off the page. Martha's diaries also enhanced the stories and kept me flipping the pages. Sometimes historical novels can have lengthy chapters that meander on, but that wasn't the case with The Frozen River . The chapters were shorter than usual and that definitely kept me engaged. I can easily see why The Frozen River made so many "Best of 2023" lists; I wish I read it sooner!

So, have you read The Frozen River ? Are you a fan of Ariel Lawhon? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. 



  1. I was seeing this one everywhere for awhile but didn't really know what it was about - it sounds fantastic! Martha does sound a bit like a women ahead of her time. Great review!

    1. Yes! I think you'd like this one, Angela. Thanks for dropping by!


I really appreciate your comments. Thank you!

Design by: Designer Blogs