In the 17th century, there were two views on the cause of birth defects. One, that the child was a monster cursed by God, the other, that the mother of the child had suffered a shock that imprinted itself on the unborn child.
A doctor who has a large birth mark on his face is determined to prove that it was his mothers fault that he is marked. She apparently witnessed a massive fire while pregnant.
The doctor's method of proving himself correct is to torment pregnant women and then study their children. Brought under his control is Eliza, a 16 year old sent to him as a maid after becoming pregnant with the child of a wealthy merchant who is paying to keep her out of the way.
This book is dark and mysterious and drags a bit. I liked it more for the background than for the actual story. I think I would have preferred a non-fiction book concerning the same subject matter. It was good though. Maybe I just wasn't in the mood for this type of book as it is a bit heavy.