The Daughters of Witching Hill by Mary Sharratt is one of those books that you are going to see on a lot of blogs for awhile. And for once I'm going to say "Yay!" because it's sooooo GOOD!
When the book opens Bess Southerns (Mother Demdike) recounts her life as a cunning woman and a blesser. She always had a power hidden within her but it isn't until her familiar spirit Tib finds her that she learns to use it. She helps her neighbours by curing their children and animals. However, when her friends are threatened by a local nobleman, she struggles with the temptation to use her powers to bring them justice. Instead, she shares her skills with someone she believes she can trust. Not a good idea.
Later the point of view shifts to Bess's granddaughter, Alizon Device. Alizon just wants to be a normal teen with friends and maybe the chance at romance but Bess is certain she is about to find her own powers. This frightens Alizon. She refuses to learn the spells from her grandmother and shuts her eyes to her familiar. Unfortunately, her powers are too much for her and she inadvertently hurts someone.
Times have changed since Bess was a girl. The old Catholic religion is illegal and the followers of the new religion are anxious to prove their devotion. When a power hungry member of the gentry gets wind of the accident, he sees the opportunity to advance himself as a witch hunter. Things are about to go badly for Bess and her family.
What I liked about Daughters of Witching Hill was that unlike so many books about witch trials that take the stance that the people accused were innocent, Sharratt assumes they were using magic. The character of Bess Southerns and her family are based on an actual witch trial and Demdike believed she had magical powers. However, people in the village benefited from her knowledge for years and she used her powers to help people.
Was Bess a bad person? She believed herself to be a 'blesser' not a witch. Most of her charms or spells were based on Catholic prayers. Not that this did her any favours in this anti-Catholic time. She was incredibly poor. Wouldn't someone with dark powers make themselves rich? It's the wealthy gentry that use this poor family to gain political power. While we may remark that people don't cry witch anymore, there are always those who use the weaker to advance themselves.
The writing is pretty smooth except for a bit of old timey phrasing here and there that was a bit yoda-ish. The characters were convincing as strong women trying to find their way in a changing world. The ending doesn't come as a big surprise but it doesn't make it any less heart wrenching.
Visit Mary Sharratt's website.
This was my first NetGalley review ebook. Thanks!