cover image The Dance Tree

The Dance Tree

Kiran Millwood Hargrave. HarperVia, $27.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-06-327477-8

Hargrave’s overwrought latest (after The Mercies) takes place in the sweltering European summer of 1518, when a slew of women danced in the central square of Strasbourg for months. The craze begins with Lisbet, a beekeeper who is determined to see her latest pregnancy through after a series of miscarriages. Her husband, Henne, leaves home for Heidelberg to keep their bees from being confiscated by the local monastery, just as Lisbet’s sister-in-law, Nethe, returns after seven years at a secluded abbey in the mountains, penance for an unnamed sin. Only Lisbet’s friend Ida, married to a cruel and vengeful man, and Nethe know about Lisbet’s dance tree, deep in the forest, where ribbons flutter for each of the children she has lost. Secrets are revealed, and things spiral dangerously out of control for Lisbet after an increasing number of women take to dancing themselves into oblivion in the city, prompting two musicians to attempt to cast the devil out of them with their music. Sometimes Hargrave’s prose soars, but more often its excessive floridity undercuts the story’s drama. Readers will have a hard time finding their way into this one. Agent: Kirby Kim, Janklow & Nesbit Assoc. (Mar.)