Posts Tagged ‘Mary Sharratt’

Daughters of the Witching Hill

Daughters of the Witching Hill

Mary Sharratt  
Hardcover, 352 pages
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Trade & Reference Publis
April 07, 2010
*I received a complimentary ARC from the publisher via NetGalley.

From the publisher:

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.

When I first read the description of this galley I was immediately interested in reading it.  I’ve always been morbidly fascinated by witch trials, and after reading The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane recently I was reminded of my interest in the subject.  Most of my knowledge stems from the trials in Salem, Massachusetts so it was a nice change of pace to learn about one of the most famous witch hunts in the Old World in Daughters of the Witching Hill.

I have to say it was an absolute pleasure reading this book and learning about the women of Pendle Forest that spanned three generations.  Their strength and independence, along with Bess’ reputation as a powerful cunning woman with the ability to heal the sick, gave them the tools to survive in a harsh reality of poverty and hunger and eventually led to their downfall. 

From the first few pages I was drawn into the world that Sharratt recreated so masterfully through what I’m sure was thorough and painstakingly detailed research.  It was beautifully written and what really stands out in my mind after finishing the book is how authentic and three-dimensional the characters seemed to be.  From their speech patterns and interactions even down to their unspoken thoughts, it was readily apparent that these people were genuinely from the 17th century and would stick out like sore thumbs if they were somehow transported to the present.

The magic that Bess, Liza and the other cunning women use was unique in that it was actually just folk magic left over from the forbidden Catholic religion.  It mostly consisted of chanting latin prayers and the use of herbal remedies, but without the help of their familiar spirit the spells would lack the power to work properly.  I thought it was a unique take on the magic employed by witches, which is typically associated with abra cadabra, broomsticks, and deals with the devil. 

Overall, Witching Hill is a great read.  One that’s filled with intensity, love, triumphs, heartbreak, and betrayal.  The harrowing ordeals that these women had to go through were the stuff from nightmares and the fear they lived with leaked right out of the pages into me, making me feel that I was the one accused of sorcery and condemned to hang.  I would definitely recommend it to fans of historical novels, especially if they’re looking for a different perspective on the 17th century witch trials in England.