This historical novel by Dutch author Simone van der Vlugt follows Catrin, a driven and talented young widow who is desperate for a fresh start after the death of her abusive husband. The story begins in 1654, during the Dutch Golden Age; Catrin sets out from her small village in North Holland in search of work and new opportunities—settling first in Amsterdam before moving on to Delft. As she navigates this new chapter, her life is complicated by secrets from her past and romantic possibilities in the present. Ultimately her journey is brightened by her artistic pursuits, which land her a role in the creation and rise of Delft Blue pottery and even allow her to interact with real-life famous Dutch painters (much to the delight of Rembrandt and Vermeer fans).
Van der Vlugt lets her novel’s plot take several melodramatic turns. At times these sudden, somewhat unlikely shifts or scenes can distract from the believability of the characters. Still, such twists also add suspense to the story and will likely keep most readers curiously turning the page to the end.
What’s more, van der Vlugt artfully handles the true-to-life tragedy of the Black Death by highlighting both the horrific sweep of the pandemic and moments of hope in the midst of the crisis. She even probes the difficult religious conversations often evoked by suffering, such as differing beliefs about the connection between tragedy, human guilt, and God’s will.
Midnight Blue may not be a wholly realistic novel, but it is a highly readable one that satisfyingly captures the excitement, energy, and tension of a culturally vibrant period in Dutch history. (Harper Collins)