The story begins in 1106 when Mother Avicia joins Malling Abbey as a prioress. Along with the nuns, they have two young, conjoined twins, six-year-old Mary and Eliza Chulkhurst who are joined at the hip. They have been confined to a room like prisoners, but Avicia decides things need to change, as the girls are healthy and bright. Sister Agnes has been looking after the twins, but Sister Margaret has been suggesting the girls are left to die.
We hear Eliza and Mary’s viewpoints in between chapters from a narrator’s point of view. Eliza is the more outgoing one, whereas Mary is rather shy. Eliza prays to God for them to be separated, as she gets fed up with her constant companion. She often talks about “the splitting” and wants it to be done soon.
I was fascinated by the premise of this book, which is based on the true story of these girls, who were born in Kent in 1100. It is certainly a fascinating read! I got into the story straight away, the first chapter grabs your attention, so you want to read on and find out what happens. The girls seem to be in mortal danger from the first chapter, which hooks you in and we follow their stories throughout their lives.
It is very well-written, and I love the characters of the girls and how different they are to each other, their individual personalities come across really well. Mother Avicia and Sister Agnes are brilliant too! But I felt really angry at the way the twins were treated sometimes by other people.
I felt the novel was very authentic and the author had done his research. The descriptions of the conditions of the time were believable and fascinating, especially the way herbs were used for medicinal complaints.
At the end of the book, there are a few pages explaining what is known about the real twins and their story, which is also well worth a read. I hadn’t heard of them before but would like to know more.
I would recommend this book to everyone; I don’t think you need to be a fan of historical fiction to enjoy the book. The twins have such an interesting story to tell, and everyone will fall in love with them. The book is so well-written that it never becomes heavy or too complicated; it’s a joy to read!
The Maids of Biddenden
‘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 songwriter, 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.
Author Bio –
I became a full-time 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.
Social Media Links –