When the herbalist appears out of nowhere and sets out his stall in the market square he brings excitement to Emily's dull midlands town. The teenager is enchanted - the glamorous visitor can be a Clark Gable to her Jean Harlow, a Fred to her Ginger, a man to make her forget her lowly status in this place where respectability is everything.
However, Emily has competition for the herbalist's attentions. The women of the town - the women from the big houses and their maids, the shopkeepers and their serving girls, those of easy virtue and their pious sisters - all seem mesmerised by this visitor who, they say, can perform miracles.
But when Emily discovers the dark side of the man who has infatuated her all summer, once again her world turns upside down. She may be a dreamer, but she has a fierce sense of right and wrong. And with the herbalist's fate lying in her hands she must make the biggest decision of her young life. To make him pay for his sins against the women of the town? Or let him escape to cast his spell on another town?
Published in paperback by Penguin on 26 September 2013, Niamh Boyce's debut novel The Herbalist has had huge success in her native Ireland. The Herbalist won the 2012 Hennessy XO Award for New Irish Writing and just this week was the Sunday Independent Newcomer of the Year at the Board Gais Energy Irish Book Awards.
Set in a small town in Ireland during the 1930s, The Herbalist is an evocative and beautifully written portrayal of life during that time.
The story is narrated in turn by four women; Emily, Carmel, Sarah and Aggie. Four very different women, who each speak with a very different voice, but who are all connected by the arrival of 'The Herbalist' to their market square.
The pace of the story is slow, and gentle, with each woman's tale explored in detail. The hidden secrets, the treatment of women and the impact of decisions come together to create a novel that, despite the almost poetic language at times, is really a look at the harsh reality of those times.
The depth of emotion is breathtaking at times, this is a heart-felt story that exposes the lack of choice of women in 1930s Ireland, and the treatment of those who did not conform.
I have no doubt that The Herbalist is the start of a magnificent writing career for Niamh Boyce.
My thanks to Catherine from Penguin, Ireland who sent my copy for review.
Niamh Boyce was awarded 'New Irish Writer Of The Year' in 2012, the same year in which her debut novel The Herbalist was a winner in the Irish Writers Centre Novel Fair Competition.
Boyce's background is in visual arts and she now works as a librarian. She lives in the Irish midlands with her family.
For more information about Niamh Boyce visit www.niamhboyce.blogspot.co.uk. Follow her on Twitter @NiamhBoyce