Daughters of the Witching Hill
by Mary Sharratt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Daughters of the Witching Hill / 978-0-547-06967-8
As a personal hobby, I've read dozens of fictionalized accounts of real life witch hunts, so when I delved into "Daughters of the Witching Hill", I was sure I knew what I was getting into. I was surprised to learn, however, that very little of this novel covers the trial and execution of the persecuted victims, and the bulk of the novel instead focuses on weaving the truly enchanting tale of the lives and histories of the women who live, work, and beg in Pendle Forest.
Author Sharratt has woven an intensely beautiful tale, as she follows the generations of Bess Southerns, her daughter Liza, and her granddaughter Alizon as they struggle to earn a living and a place among the simple people of their town. The characterization of the women is rich, and deeply three-dimensional - a good third of the novel is devoted to characterizing Bess as the strong and powerful matron of the impoverished family, who earns her living blessing children and livestock in exchange for food and clothing. Indeed, though I had expected young Alizon to be the "main" character, I found myself identifying most strongly with Bess, as she is developed through the enchanting tale of her history as a young uncertain girl to a lovely headstrong wife to an aged and confident healer.
I'm impressed with the subtlety with which Sharratt has handled her subject matter - the subject of magic is always a tricky one in novelizations of witch hunts. From the historical record, it would seem that the real Elizabeth Southers did indeed believe herself to be a healer, and so Sharratt has maintained this, but while her healings and visions are relayed to the reader as real to her, the reader is allowed to have their own doubts as to the reality behind the magical workings. Moreover, I appreciate the sensitivity with which all the characters are treated - the protagonists hail from several different religious backgrounds, and the antagonists are clearly portrayed as acting from a desire for power and notoriety, rather than being religious extremists of the "wrong" sort religion.
So often, witch hunt novelizations must be about the literary journey, and not the already-known destination. "Daughters of the Witching Hill" deserves serious mention, therefore, for providing a beautiful, enchanting journey through the lives of three real women, and for giving the reader a glimpse into the magical beauty and harsh realities of their lives. I would highly recommend "Daughters of the Witching Hill" for adults and young adults alike. Parents should be aware that there are some frightening situations (storms, talk of murder, a death of a parent) and some frank discussions of sexuality (adultery, abortion), but there is little in the way of overt violence or sexual situations in this novel, and I believe this novel would be appropriate for young teenagers and up.
NOTE: This review is based on a free Advance Review Copy of this book provided through Amazon Vine.
~ Ana Mardoll
View all my reviews