Rated of 5
by Linda S. (Oceanside, NY) Disappointing
Daughters of the Witching Hill is a fictionalized account of the so called “Witches of Pendle Forest”, who were found guilty of witchcraft in England in the early 1600’s. The main focus of the story is Elizabeth Southerns, a cunning woman, who had been helping the people of the area for some 50 years by using herbs and charms to cure ills in exchange for food for her family. Both her daughter and granddaughter have the same talent for curing, but choose not to pursue their talent, and the family’s eventual downfall forms the crux of this story.
I usually enjoy stories of this type, but I found that at times this book went on and on describing walks to and from various homes of the townspeople. The bleakness of the lives these people led was often hard to read about, that isn’t a criticism of the writing, it’s just a statement that the book was often depressing. I also had a hard time connecting with the characters, with the exception of Alizon Device, the granddaughter; to me she was the most fully realized character in the book. It was hard to follow time frames, years seemed to go by with the turn of a page. After all the time spent setting up the story, the eventual imprisonment and trial seemed very rushed. Although it’s clear that a lot of research went into this I never ‘felt’ the story.
Rated of 5
by Patricia S. (Chicago, IL) Daughters of the Witching Hill
When I first received this book, I realized that it wasn't the sort I'd usually pick up. No grand courts, no fancy gowns, no famous historical personages. Just poor, old women, poorer farms and some hints of the events of the times. Then I started reading it and Mother Demdyke hooked me. An old peasant woman, who becomes a healer late in her life, she had such a personality that I had to learn everything I could about her. Through her reminiscences, we learn of the closing of the abbeys, the Spanish Armada and the accession of King James I of England. She also remembers the church festivals and holidays (more for the frolicking and feasting than the services!) and some of the folk wisdom of the time. Her experiences with her familiar, Tibb, gives a view of early 17th century witchcraft that history books leave out--the healer who chants old Latin prayers as she "charms" the people and animals she cures. Another old woman, once Demdyke's best friend, is the local evil witch, cursing the man who raped her daughter. this deed comes back to haunt the community in the end, though.
Mother Demdyke narrates the first half of the book and her granddaughter narrates the second. I liked Mother Demdyke better as a narrator, she had the personal experiences to relate while her granddaughter only knows what her grandmother told her. In the second half, Mother Demdyke is merely an old, blind woman, not the powerful matriarch of the first half. Her granddaughter, while beautiful, is not nearly as smart, which brings the whole family to disaster, charged as witches and taken to the nearest town for trial and execution. I felt the second half of the book lacked the depth of the first half, and the ending was both rushed and obvious. However, the setting was wonderfully described and the characters extremely memorable.
Rated of 5
by Laura A. (Jeremiah, Kentucky) Nothing Exciting
"Daughters of the Witching Hill" should have been more interesting than it was. The premise was interesting - an actual witch hunt and trial of a family in the 1580's- but it was very dull and the characters just did not come to life for me.
Rated of 5
by Peg M. (Durham, NC) The Good Women of the Witching Hill
Mary Sharratt has taken a piece of English history and made the women and their story come alive. Her occasional use of olde English-language words is initially unsettling but eventually infuses the story with an other-worldliness, without intruding on the narrative itself. Rather, the language is a subtle reminder that we are reading about a time in history when magic was real, and could be used for good or evil.
The story revolves around two ‘cunning’ women and their families. Life is hard, begging for basic sustenance is the norm, and the wealthy have ultimate power over the people who are literally and figuratively beneath them. The Catholic Church is a main character in the story - as an underdog. The Reformation has taken place and the old trappings of the Catholic Church (Latin prayers, saints, rosaries, religious feast days and the Virgin Mary, for example) are forbidden. These once familiar icons and holidays grow in esteem by those who remember them, and are feared by the new generation growing up since their demise and the men who are now power-hungry in their Protestant austereness. The women who continue to call upon Mary and the saints for help are soon transformed in the eyes of the others into witches – their Latin prayers become devil worship, their blessings for good health are evidence of evil deeds.
As can happen with people who have little or no political power or protection, the Daughters of the Witching Hill and a few of their men eventually become enmeshed in the struggle between good and evil, poverty and wealth. A small gathering of friends at the home of one of the Daughters is presented in a court trial as an act of treason against the King, resulting in several guilty verdicts and a punishment of death.
But before the sad and inevitable ending, we are introduced to several strong women who live, love, laugh, cry and pray. The author’s descriptions of the characters’ acute awareness of Mother Nature and her many gifts invite the reader to use all five senses to understand. The author writes about Mother Nature the way Cameron directed the new world of Pandora – you believe you are there and everything is real.
I found myself dawdling over this book as I neared the end. I enjoyed meeting these women; knowing how their story would end, I was in no hurry to say goodbye.
Rated of 5
by Mary M. (Lexingtin, KY) Fascinating Historical Novel
I found this book to be interesting and well written. I knew nothing about the historical events it was based on. I sometimes have trouble relating to characters in historical novels, but from the first few pages I felt I knew Demdike. I cared about her and I cared what happened to her and her friends and family. It was easy to get lost in the time period and to feel like you knew the people and their world. I finished the book wanting to know more about the witch trials and the time period they took place in. I think a good book gets you interested in the subject beyond the book and this book did that for me. I will be reading more about the witch trials. I also feel I have discovered a new author since I have not read anything else by Mary Sharrat. I will be reading other books by her in the future.
Rated of 5
by Barbara B. (Alta Loma, CA) For History Lovers
Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres and reading DAUGHTERS OF THE WITCHING HILL did not disappoint. Mary Sharratt's novel takes place in the 17th Century & tells the story of seven women & two men who were tried as witches. It is based on real people & factual events,told by two of the condemned, who have very strong voices. The characters came alive for me and the use of the language put me in the middle of all that was enfolding. I would suggest this book for book clubs, as the discussions can take different paths.
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