Sunday, April 18, 2010

Daughters of the Witching Hill

Title: Daughters of the Witching Hill

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Imprint: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Pub Date: 04/07/2010
ISBN: 9780547069678
Author: Sharratt, Mary
Category: FICTION - ADULT: Historical & Biographical: Historical

Daughters of the Witching Hill brings history to life in a vivid and wrenching account of a family sustained by love as they try to survive the hysteria of a witch-hunt. Bess Southerns, an impoverished widow living in Pendle Forest, is haunted by visions and gains a reputation as a cunning woman. Drawing on the Catholic folk magic of her youth, Bess heals the sick and foretells the future. As she ages, she instructs her granddaughter, Alizon, in her craft, as well as her best friend, who ultimately turns to dark magic. When a peddler suffers a stroke after exchanging harsh words with Alizon, a local magistrate, eager to make his name as a witch finder, plays neighbors and family members against one another until suspicion and paranoia reach frenzied heights. Sharratt interweaves well-researched historical details of the 1612 Pendle witch-hunt with a beautifully imagined story of strong women, family, and betrayal. Daughters of the Witching Hill is a powerful novel of intrigue and revelation.

I received an ARC of Daughters of the Witching Hill from the publisher via NetGalley. Disclaimer: I received no compensation for this review, which is my personal opinion upon reading the galley.

Daughters of the Witching Hill is a captivating account of the life of Bess Southerns and her family. Reading this book, I found myself transported to England in the time of King James I. I felt the desperation of Bess and her family as they struggled to survive on charity, begging, and itinerant work as they walked miles to neighbouring farms to offer their services in exchange for a meal. I felt the despair brought by death, disease and famine, over which the poor had no control. And I felt the terror of simple people facing oppression from the church and the magistrates.

In the late 1500's, after The Reformation, the Catholic faith was driven underground. Practising Catholicism was seen to be just as dangerous and evil as witchcraft. Meanwhile, the only defence against sickness that the people had was prayer and herbal folk remedies. A woman who plied her trade as a "cunning woman", or healer, was never far from being cried out as a witch.

What stays with me after reading Daughters of the Witching Hill is the injustice of the times.It made me so angry to read what Bess and family had to go through. I don't know if I could have survived in those times. If you were born poor, you really had no opportunity to better yourself. It was a matter of keeping your head down, working hard, and being meek and respectable. If you were lucky enough to find favour with a rich protector, you were safe, but otherwise life was perilous indeed.

If you've ever been intrigued by the stories of witch trials, you will love this book, which is written from the point of view of Bess and her grand-daughter Alizon, extremely sympathetic characters. Anyone who enjoys historical fiction will find Daughters of the Witching Hill extremely interesting. The fact that this story has been woven from actual accounts of the 1612 witch trials makes it doubly fascinating.

Highly recommended. 

1 comment:

Witch Baby said...

Sounds like a breath taking story. Can't wait to locate it here so I can read it for myself!! Love the review.