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Book Review: Daughters of the Witching Hill by Mary Sharratt

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They call her Demdike; her name is Elizabeth Southerns, Bess to some, and she lives in Pendle Forest in Malkin Tower. She is a poor woman known to many as a healer, a blesser, but to others she is feared as a witch. In concert with her familiar spirit Tibbs, she uses her folk magic to heal the sick, both man and beast. She can foresee the future.

One day her best friend Anne pleads with her to share her charms to use against a man who has taken advantage of her daughter. Reluctantly, Bess agrees, realizing only too late that her friend has harnessed the power for nefarious plans. She soon recognizes that her friend is “unstoppable."

Over the years, Bess tries to pass her healing craft along to her granddaughter Alizon, a reluctant recipient. Ironically, as Alizon takes a walk one day she encounters a peddler on the road. She intends to purchase pins from him in order to mend her threadbare clothes. She becomes incensed when he refuses her — and calls her a beggar and thief. Brandishing threatening words of malice, she lashes out in anger declaring, “The Devil take your mean heart.” As the peddler proceeds along, he is felled by a stroke causing Alizon to freeze in disbelief. Could she really be the instrument of his malady?

A local official eager to bring the coven of witches to justice proceeds to investigate this incident leading to his discovery of many other unexplained happenings in Pendle Forest. Through countless interviews and clever manipulation of friends and relatives, Roger Nowell seeks to bring the accused to the hangman’s noose.

Daughters of the Witching Hill, provides an historical fiction account of the actual Lancashire witch trials of 1612. The main characters and the story are taken from the actual records filed by the court clerk, Thomas Potts, in 1613.

In her novel, Mary Sharratt has uncovered an alarming tale from this pre-Reformation period England. A story of powerfully strong women, friendship, betrayal and forgiveness, it unfolds like a magnet of intrigue shedding light on how easily the lines can become blurred between Christianity and folkcraft/witchcraft, leaving the innocent to suffer with pending death. An elegiac story, historically rich and hauntingly memorable. 

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