Daughters of the Witching Hill
By Mary Sharratt
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Bess Southers lives in Pendle Forest with her small family. A cunning woman she’s called by some, by others a witch. A fine line in 16th Century England. She wanders the forest helping to heal animals and people alike, careful not to run afoul of the authorities or tout her powers.
Bess’s best friend from childhood, Anne, 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.
As Bess grows older and begins to feel her powers ebb, she longs to teach her granddaughter Alizon and pass down her knowledge. Alizon does not want to learn, knowing full well what people think of her family. It causes her and her grandmother great pain and suffering yet she holds firm to her decision. Unfortunately, Jamie, Bess’s grandson, also seems to have inherited some of her 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 not only herself but also her family. When the witch hunt begins, Bess and her family are arrested knowing full well what can and, probably will happen, to them all.
Daughters 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 life long friends and family causing everyone to wonder 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 and whether it’s because of her powers or confidence, you don’t know. However, throughout the story, she felt like a stranger to me, but 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.
In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. The above is a summary of my review, which can be read in full here. The book was provided to me by the publisher for The Book Reporter review.