From School Library Journal
Grade 5-8-For as long as 12-year-old Issy has lived with Nat, a healer, she has been tormented by a nightmare of hellfire, but more troubling are her ungodly powers-she can burn those who wish to harm her or her loved ones. When Nat's loyalty to her falters because she attracts the attention of a witchfinder, the local witches-satan worshippers-compel her to join them, but she is rescued from that fate by Iohan, who had given her to Nat 10 years earlier. Iohan enters the scene like a fresh spring breeze-she laughs a lot (or "gurgles," as Burgess is fond of saying), but readers will thirst for more details of her religion and wonder about the differences between her witchcraft and that of the local hags. Issy, too, is racked by confusion-she eventually convinces herself that her new guardian is evil and puts herself in the hands of the magistrate. In a rather vague, whirlwind scene, the Goddess and the Horned Man help her break free from imprisonment, but in the meantime Iohan has been captured and literally broken. In the end, Issy is determined to help keep Iohan's religion alive. Despite its unsatisfying elements and the somewhat distant tone of the first-person narrative, this novel has moments when it captures the immense power that the image of the witch wielded over early 17th-century English minds.
Vanessa Elder, School Library Journal
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Gr. 7-10. Witches are increasingly popular figures in YA historical fiction; they are nearly always shown to be strong female outsiders who are wrongfully accused and hunted down by the fanatics of the male establishment. Burgess' story, set in medieval times, asks us to imagine something more than that. What if there really were witches? What if they were ordinary women and men who were secret followers of an old religion of nature-worship? The story is told by 12-year-old foundling Issy, who tries to deny her own intuitive powers. She finds herself and her community in danger from the established church. She sees people betrayed, tortured, and burned. But she also discovers her own power: she has gifts of healing, harming, and seeing that can be used for good or for evil. The ignorant may say she worships the devil, but she celebrates a joyful connection to the spirit of nature. Readers will be held by the terror of the witch-hunt and also by the view of the witch as more than saintly victim. Hazel Rochman
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