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BOOK REVIEW: Daughters of the Witching Hill by Mary Sharratt

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

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.


My Thoughts:

In the early 17th century, during the last years of the Elizabethan era, a witch craze hit Lancashire and a dozen men and women were brought to trial accused of black magic and Satanism. Six of the accused came from just two families who lived near to each other at Pendle Hill in Lancashire. Elizabeth Southerns (called Mother Demdike) was in her eighties, and was accused along with her daughter (also called Elizabeth) and her grand-children James and Alizon Device. A neighbour Annie Whittle (called Mother Chattox) was also in her eighties and was accused along with her daughter Anne. The other six also lived nearby, and included a mother and her son. One died in prison, and one was found not guilty, but the rest were hanged on 20 August 1612. The two women in their 80s were both acknowledged village healers and cunning-women, and their tsti9mony is a fascinating glimpse into the magical thinking of England in the 1600s.

Mary Sharratt has taken the story of the Pendle Witches – the most famous witch-trials in British history – and brought them to vivid and heart-rending life. Most of the narrative is told through the eyes of Bess Southerns, cunning-woman and widow, who ekes out a living on the edge of Pendle Forest by healing the sick, making love spells and foretelling the future. As her grand-daughter Alizon grows up, Bess begins to teach her the secret of magic but finds herself at odds with her neighbour, Mother Chattox, who turns to the dark arts in her desire for revenge and power.

When a peddler suffers a stroke after an exchange of hot words with Alizon, the family finds themselves drawn into accusation and counter-accusation, which leads them inexorably towards tragedy.

I knew the story of the Pendle Witches well, having read a great deal about it over the years, but it is not necessary to know the background to be drawn into this powerful and beautifully imagined novel. This is a story about love, compassion, strength and betrayal, and a must-read for anyone who loved Hannah Kent’s The Good People or Kathleen Kent’s
The Heretic’s Daughter.



For more great fiction about witches, check out my 2013 review of Witch Child by Celia Rees

Please do leave a comment - I love to know your thoughts! 

BOOK REVIEW: TOWER OF THORNS by Juliet Marillier

Thursday, July 28, 2016


Juliet Marillier’s books are an enchanting mix of romance, mystery and historical fantasy. Tower of Thorns is the second in her new series ‘Blackthorn & Grim’ which tells the story of the damaged and disillusioned healer Blackthorn and her faithful companion Grim. Both have been badly hurt and betrayed in the past, and they carry the scars deep inside them. In this episode of the series, the two friends are asked to help a noblewoman who has a strange and uncanny problem – a creature has taken up residence in an old tower and howls all day, driving the people of the land mad. Bound by the fey to help anyone who asks, Blackthorn has no choice but to do what she can – even though the task will tax her to the limits of her strength. As always, Juliet Marillier’s prose is luminous, and the story both powerful and poignant. The books in this series can be read and enjoyed on their own, but I’d recommend beginning with Book 1: Dreamer’s Pool.


BOOK REVIEW: THE ROSE GARDEN by Susanna Kearsley

Friday, June 17, 2016



When Eva's film star sister Katrina dies, she leaves California and returns to Cornwall, where they spent their childhood summers, to scatter Katrina's ashes and in doing so return her to the place where she belongs. But Eva must also confront the ghosts from her own past, as well as those from a time long before her own. For the house where she so often stayed as a child is home not only to her old friends the Halletts, but also to the people who had lived there in the eighteenth century. When Eva finally accepts that she is able to slip between centuries and see and talk to the inhabitants from hundreds of years ago, she soon finds herself falling for Daniel Butler, a man who lived - and died - long before she herself was born. Eva begins to question her place in the present, and in laying her sister to rest, comes to realise that she too must decide where she really belongs, choosing between the life she knows and the past she feels so drawn towards. 

Susanna Kearsley mixes together romance, suspense, and the supernatural in wonderfully readable ways. The Rose Garden is the story of a woman who keeps slipping back and forth between times in Cornwall. So part of the story is set in the present-day and part of it set in 1715, a time of smugglers and Jacobite plots. Of course there’s a man in the now and a man in the past, and problems and dangers in both. It’s a period of history that I really love, and I must say I have a real soft spot for books set in Cornwall, a place I’ve always longed to visit. Susanna Kearsley has a light, deft touch – The Rose Garden is the sort of book that you can race through in a single setting, hoping all the time for a happy ending but not sure how the author is going to pull it off. Delightful.

BOOK REVIEW: THE LIE TREE by Frances Hardinge

Friday, June 10, 2016



Winner of the Costa Book of the Year 2015, The Lie Tree is a dark and powerful novel from universally acclaimed author, Frances Hardinge. 

It was not enough. All knowledge- any knowledge - called to Faith, and there was a delicious, poisonous pleasure in stealing it unseen.

Faith has a thirst for science and secrets that the rigid confines of her class cannot supress. And so it is that she discovers her disgraced father's journals, filled with the scribbled notes and theories of a man driven close to madness. Tales of a strange tree which, when told a lie, will uncover a truth: the greater the lie, the greater the truth revealed to the liar. Faith's search for the tree leads her into great danger - for where lies seduce, truths shatter . . .


The Lie Tree is an utterly brilliant and surprising YA historical novel with a magical twist – it recently won the Costa Book of the Year award in a decision that I applaud most enthusiastically. The story is set in Victorian times, teetering on the edge of the uneasy chasm that opened up between science and religion following Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species. Faith is a fourteen-year-old girl with an eager, questioning mind, who is constantly being reprimanded for unwomanly behaviour. She adores her naturalist father, loves her little brother, and dislikes her pretty, manipulative mother. The family – accompanied by her Uncle Miles – sail to Vane, an imaginary island much like Jersey, to escape a scandal. Faith’s father is then found dead. Trying to find out what happened, Faith stumbles upon a complex mystery of deceit, betrayal, and murder. 

The story twists and turns, with all sorts of surprising discoveries, and the characters are all drawn with a swift, deft hand. The Lie Tree at the centre of the story is an extraordinary imaginative creation. This is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time, so please do not be put off by its young protagonist or the fantastical elements. This book is a tour de force. Read it.



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