Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Review: Witch Child, Celia Rees

I am Mary. 
I am a witch. Or so some would call me. 'Spawn of the Devil', 'Witch Child', they hiss in the street, although I know neither father or mother. I know only my grandmother, Eliza Nuttall; Mother Nuttall to her neighbours. She brought me up from a baby. If she knew who my parents are, she has not told me. 
'Daughter of the Erl King and the Elfin Queen, that's who you are.'
We live in a small cottage on the very edge of the forest, Grandmother, me and her cat and my rabbit. 
Lived. Live there no more.

So begins Mary's journal of her journey from England to America in 1659, which she weaves into a quilt to be discovered many years later. This was a time of fear and superstition, where girls and women who behaved unusually were tried as witches and very often executed. The events of this story are based closely on real historic events, and many of the characters are based on real people. It is very easy to believe that Mary's story really is a discovered 17th Century journal, and her story is likely to have been shared by many women and girls who lived at that time.

After seeing her grandmother hanged as a witch, Mary is whisked away by a mysterious stranger and sent with a group of Puritans to start a new life across the sea in Massachusetts. She will be safe there, or so she hopes. But superstition travels to the New World, and it is not long before there is talk of a witch hiding amongst them. Will Mary really be safe here?

This is a multi-layered story, with a central theme of how fear and superstition can take over a community. As well as the superstition surrounding witchcraft, there is the settlers' fear of the Native Americans, who they believe to be working with the Devil. As an outcast, Mary finds herself wandering alone in the forest, where she develops a friendship with a Native American boy; but even when his knowledge of medicinal plants helps to save the life of one of the settlers, the Native Americans are still regarded as savages and treated with fear and suspicion. 

Witch Child is a captivating read, and although it is a YA novel, there is definitely plenty here to keep readers of all ages interested in Mary's story, and Celia Rees does not shy away from writing about the disturbing and horrific reality of how people suffered at the time.

The ending is abrupt, and although it left me desperate to find out what happened to Mary, it added to the strong element of realism that makes this book such a memorable read - it makes sense that a journal would end so suddenly and that we would be left wondering what happened to its author. The good news is that Celia Rees wrote a sequel, Sorceress, so I am very eager to get my hands on that and do a part 2 review!

In total I give Witch Child 4/5 stars (if only because it left me impatient to read the sequel!) I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historic fiction, stories in journal-form, realism or YA novels. 

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