Monday, April 11, 2011

Daughters Of The Witching Hill by Mary Sharratt [Review]

Daughters of the 
Witching Hill
Author: Mary Sharratt
Genre: Historical Fiction
Release Date: April 7, 2010
Format: Kindle Edition
Print Length: 352 pages
ISBN: 0547069677
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Reviewer: A Chick Who Reads

4 out of 5 Robots!

About the Book:
Daughters of theWitching 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 Review:
Daughters of the Witching Hill may be fiction but its cast and storyline are taken straight from the history books. The time period of this novel is the late 1500’s through the early 1600’s. The story is based on the Pendle Witch Trials of 1612.

The book gets off to a slow start as the author recounts a lot of Bess Demdike’s coming into her powers and discovering her familiar “Tibbs.” If she could be called anything it would be a good witch. She was a Blesser.

What will strike most readers is how horribly the government treated its people. Bess was a widow and forced to beg for what meager scraps she could get and most of the village she was from had to do the same. She was fiercely loyal to those she loved and that is illustrated beautifully throughout the story. She seemed to always fight to do what she felt was right.

Then there was the Chattox family. The mother Anne was a girlhood friend of Bess, and when her daughter was the focus of some unwanted attentions, Bess steps in and teaches young Annie some charms. It is there that the story takes a dark turn. The two friends become rivals and that brings their magic a bit more out in the open and eventually brings the law to their doorstep. The two families may make readers think of the good witches and the bad witches from The Wizard of Oz. Demdike’s family seems to use their power for good, while Chattox use their’s for. The story breaks apart there, and is told from Bess’s granddaughter’s point of view. Alizon Device is the daughter of Bess’s daughter Elizabeth. Sharratt paints Alizon as a girl that seems to deny that she’s a charmer, which seems to be a bit different from what history wrote about the girl.

Other than that, Sharratt seems to have told the witches story quite well. You really get the feel for the times, which span the reigns of Mary Tudor, Queen Elizabeth I and King James. Many of these villagers were papists and had to hide their true beliefs for fear of being persecuted. Reading this story made me thankful for freedom of religion.

The witches are characters that any reader will easily feel empathy for. The all had hard lives and many struggles. They may have been making their living by their prayers and charms, but they weren’t getting rich and there always was the fear of punishment.

Mary Sharratt gives her readers a vivid picture of life for the lower classes in this book. Sometimes the story seems to be moving along at a slow pace but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable, especially as she treats us to “The Witches” side of the story. As I read this, I found it hard to believe it was taken from actual events, but one little google search and I knew that almost all the characters in this story were “real.” Mary Sharratt may have embellished on the story, but she really did her research. This was a great read!


Other Reviews of Daughters of Witching Hill
PBTP   Linus's   WTR

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