Sunday, July 17, 2011

Daughters of the Witching Hill

                                              Daughters of the Witching Hill ~ Mary Sharratt

'See us gathered here, three woman stood at Richard Baldwin's gate. I bide with my daughter, Liza of the squint eye, and with my grandaughter, Alizon, just fifteen and dazzling as the noontide sun, so bright that she lights up the murk of my dim sight. Demdike, folk call me, after the dammed stream near my dwelling place where the farmers wash their sheep before shearing. When I was younger and stronger, I used to help with the sheepwash. Wasn't afraid of the fiercest rams. I'd always had a way of gentling creatures by speaking to them low and soft. Though I'm old now, crabbed and near-blind, my memory is long as a midsummer's day and with my inner eye, I see clear.'

I picked up this novel in Powell Books not long ago. The write-up on the back of the book intrigued me and I was not disappointed. The author has done her research well and each character is based on a true person; many of the scenes based on actual court clerk, Thomas Pott's account of the 1612 Lancashire Witch Trials.

Bess Southerns is a widow living in Pendle Forest who has built her reputation as a cunning woman; a woman who can heal the sick and bless others as well as animals. Her best friend has no such powers, but Bess teaches her what she knows and her friend turns to dark magic to save her daughter from their landlords son, who has terrorized her for years. As Bess' grandaughter grows, Bess can see that she has the gift as well, but Alizon wants nothing to do with it. One day Alizon meets a peddler on the road who seems to think she is a prostitute. Alizon exchanges harsh words with him, cursing the peddler who suddenly falls to the road with a stroke. The local magistrate is trying to build his reputation as a witch hunter, so locks Alizon up in the dungeon and the witch trials begin.

This book is written really well, bringing this disturbing time in history to vivid life. The author lives in Pendle Forest, right where the witch hunt took place. I think her nearness to the scene lent clarity and depth to the writing . If historical fiction is one of your passions, than this book should not be missed.

'She was a very old woman, about the age of Foure-score yeares, and had been a Witch for fiftie yeares. Shee dwelt in the Forrest of Pendle, a vast place, fitte for her profession: What shee committed in her time, no man knowes...She was a generall agent for the Devill in all these partes: no man escaped her, or her Furies.'

-Thomas Potts, The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster, 1613


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