Sixteen out of nineteen BookBrowse readers gave Daughters of the Witching Hill 4 or 5 stars.
Here's what they had to say:
Daughters of the Witching Hill, a brooding, atmospheric novel set in England in the 1600's, tells the story of the hard scrabble life of Bess Southern, a "wise woman" who only uses her talents for healing to support her family. Her daughters and granddaughters inherit the talent but not the wisdom for using it (Priscilla M). 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. 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.
Mary Sharratt has taken a piece of English history and made the women and their story come alive. Her occasional use of Old English 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 (Peg M).
I have not read anything else by Mary Sharrat but I will be reading other books by her in the future (Mary M). Reading this book made me see how swiftly accusations and mob mentality could get out of control and cause irreparable damage, especially to those so poor they have no representation in the courts. The language and voice of the book added to the story (Carol N). The characters came alive for me and the use of the language put me in the middle of all that was enfolding (Barbara B). Every time I picked this book up I was immediately transported to Pendle Forest and completely absorbed in the story of these women. (Leann A). 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 I knew the people and their world (Mary M). I'll be recommending this book to all my fellow historical novel lovers. Well-researched and very well written! (Lola T)
But a couple felt that certain elements were flawed...
The premise was interesting - but it was very dull and the characters just did not come to life for me (Laura A). Although it's clear that a lot of research went into this I never 'felt' the 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, and it was hard to follow time frames (Linda S).
The bottom line...
As a reader, I learned about the use of religion as a means of control over the people... at times, it reminded me of the current times, when we are becoming less tolerant of others who are not exactly like us. I encourage all to read this enchanting story as it will have a lasting effect on you showing how the world has changed and then really not changed over the last several hundred years (Beverly J). I recommend Daughters of the Witching Hill for book clubs as there is much to discuss (Stephanie White). I will definitely be recommending this to my friends, co-workers and our library's patrons who ask for "a good read" (Barb W)!
Interesting Link: The author's website at www.marysharratt.com is stuffed with background information on this book including a cast of characters, some samples of Mother Demdike's charms, a discussion guide and excerpt (the latter two are also available at BookBrowse).
This review was originally published in May 2010, and has been updated for the January 2011 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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