Daughters of the Witching Hill
Bess Southerns lives in Pendle Forest with her daughter, Liza, grandson Jamie, and granddaughters Alizon and Jennet. Bess has always had a way with animals, able to calm even the fiercest with a few soft words. Now, she roams the countryside of Pendle Forest curing animals and people alike, rich and poor, to feed and clothe her family in winter. She's called a cunning woman by some, a witch by others. A fine line in 16th-century England.
Anne, Bess's best friend from childhood, comes seeking her help to protect her daughter from their cruel landlord. Bess, who has only ever used her powers for good, balks at the idea of stirring up evil even if it may lead to good. She knows the path she walks can easily blur, but in spite of herself, she agrees to help Anne and instructs her in her spiritual ways. Anne eventually turns to evil, embracing her dark powers, and the two once-close friends find their friendship broken. Anne becomes known as a witch in the community and is shunned by most, even Bess's family.
As Bess grows older and begins to feel her powers ebb, she longs to teach Alizon and pass down her knowledge. Much like Liza, Alizon does not want to learn, knowing full well what people think of her family. She knows that she has powers and is not always able to control them, but still she refuses. It causes her and her grandmother great pain and suffering, yet she holds firm to her decision. Unfortunately, Jamie also seems to have inherited some of Bess's abilities. A slow child who has grown into a wayward soul, he doesn't seem to understand the distinction of good and evil and what his abilities are. While Alizon struggles to help control him, she finds out more haunting information about what he may have done, scaring her and her family. She has to protect not only Jamie from himself, but the people of the community who believe him to be the most evil sort. When the witch hunt begins, Bess and her family are arrested, knowing full well what can and probably will happen to them all.
DAUGTHERS OF THE WITCHING HILL is based on a true account of a witch hunt and trial in Lancaster, England, in the early 1600s. Seven women and two men were accused and hanged as witches. The fictionalized version here plays the frenzy and paranoia cards well, especially when the hunt gets underway. Accusations fly, and neighbors turns against family and lifelong friends, causing everyone to question if their closest friends are courting evil. You begin to wonder about the people involved and how they are able to believe something so preposterous.
This is first and foremost a story about strong women. Bess stands up to almost everyone; whether it's because of her powers or confidence, you don't know. However, throughout the story, she felt like a stranger to me, albeit an admirable one. She has an incredible love for her family, and she'll do whatever she can to protect them. Alizon, on the other hand, was very open and likable, struggling to be strong for her family and hold her own when others want her to be something she cannot fathom.
While I liked all the characters and found them well-drawn, I just didn't become attached to them. Nevertheless, I was still able to enjoy this interesting tale, as Mary Sharratt does a good job with the suspense built around the hunt and the minimal evidence needed to cry witch and hang a person at this time in history.
Reviewed by Amy Gwiazdowski on December 29, 2010