MARY SHARRATT is an American writer who has lived in the Pendle
Lancashire, England, for the past seven years. Her inspiration for Daughters of the
Witching Hill arose directly from the wild, brooding landscape: the true story of the
Pendle witches unfolded almost literally in her backyard. All the major characters
and events portrayed in the novel are drawn from court clerk Thomas Potts's
account of the 1612 Lancashire witch trials, in which seven women and two men
from Pendle Forest were hanged as witches. The author of the critically acclaimed
novels Summit Avenue, The Real Minerva, and The Vanishing Point, Sharratt is also
the coeditor of the subversive fiction anthology Bitch Lit, a celebration of female
antiheroes, strong women who break all the rules.
Based on the infamous 1612 Lancashire witch trials, Sharratt's (The Vanishing Point) latest novel vividly portrays the religious turmoil and hardscrabble life of 17th-century rural England. It's a familiar premise: an old beggar woman accused of witchcraft is sentenced to hang, along with others of her ilk. What makes this story stand out are the strong voices of the two main characters, stalwart Bess Southerns (aka Demdike) and her feisty granddaughter Alizon Device. Demdike is a cunning woman, able to heal animals and people with herbal folk magic. She strives to do only good, but when she teaches her dear friend the craft, she releases a Pandora's box of resentment, revenge, and evil. Years later, Alizon comes into the power herself but denies it, and this leads to tragedy. VERDICT While not a quick read, this is a fascinating tale. The story unfolds without melodrama and is therefore all the more powerful. Recommended for fans of Katherine Howe's The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane.-Jamie Kallio, Thomas Ford Memorial Lib., Western Springs, IL Copyright 2010 Reed Business Information.
The 1612 Lancashire, England, witch trials that resulted in nine executions inspires Sharratt's gorgeously imagined novel that wonders if some of the accusations of witchcraft might be true. Sharratt (The Vanishing Point) focuses on the Southerns family of Pendle Forest. Widowed mother Bess Southerns tries to save her family from bleakest poverty by healing the sick, telling fortunes, and blessing those facing misfortune, conjuring "charmes" that combine forbidden Catholic ritual, medicinal herbs, and guidance provided by her spirit-friend, Tibb. Though Bess compassionately uses her powers, her granddaughter, Alizon, unwittingly endangers her family while under the interrogation of a conniving local magistrate. Sharratt crafts her complex yet credible account by seamlessly blending historical fact, modern psychology, and vivid evocations of the daily life of the poor whose only hope of empowerment lay in the black arts. Set in forests and towers, farms and villages, deep in a dungeon and on the gallows, this novel grows darker as it approaches its inevitable conclusion, but proves uplifting in its portrayal of women who persevere, and mothers and daughters who forgive. (Apr.) Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.