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on August 22, 2015
"Daughters of Witching Hill" follows several generations of "Cunning Women" in Lancashire, England. The story combine strong female figures with a well developed sense of place and time. Character development is solid, but not overly sentimental. I cared for the lead figures in the story, but was never overwhelmed by the emotional component of the story.

The real strength of the story lies in the details of historical setting that the story illuminates. It does as good a job as any book I can think of portraying the precarious economic conditions of commoners of the time. And those conditions were precarious indeed. The domination of the common folk by clergy and nobility is also well illustrated, as well as the rigidity of social structures of the time.

For me, however, the crowning jewel was the detailed depiction of witchcraft scares in the context of King James England. As a resident of New England, I've been immersed in the story of the Salem witch trials (1692) all my life and it strongly colors my perception of the phenomena. The perspective of the earlier time (1612) and the pre-colonial setting, as well as its embedding within the Catholic-Protestant struggles of 15th century England was eye-opening for me, and well crafted.
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on August 27, 2015
Excellent book based on the author's research regarding beliefs of England's king and other persons in power or seeking to gain power about supposed witchcraft practices in the early 1600s. Ms. Sharrat does such an exceptional job of engaging the reader's interest in the lives of the common folk of the time and the hardships they endured in everyday life. The author focuses on certain groups of characters living on Pendleton Hill in England who possess healing abilities and knowledge of herbs and their uses. These healers believe that these abilities are made stronger with the assistance of a "familiar" who comes to them at times of need. Although the general population embraces the powers of those who have these healing powers and rely on their skills and abilities when their loved ones are ill or in need, there are some who are quick to turn on these same individuals when they fail to do as requested, or when something unusual occurs. As times get hard and the populace looks for someone to blame for their misfortunes, those seeking notice of the king use the fears of the unknown to make things better for theselves at the expense of others. Readers of this book be prepared to spend some time in the wee hours of night pressing on to the end of the story as the battle of evil and goodness plays out.
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on June 10, 2012
This book left me breathless.

Daughters of the Witching Hill, by Mary Sharratt, will draw you in and not let go. Based on fact, and painstakingly researched, it tells the story of the Pendle Witch Trials of 1612 through the first-person account of Bess Southerns, a healer and "cunning woman," and her granddaughter Alizon. These women, and every other character in this vast and fascinating tale, leap off the page and come to life.

The author has chosen every word with care. From the first pages, which include the following: a quote from Thomas Potts's The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches, a chant for curing the afflicted used by Bess Southerns herself, and a map of Pendle Forest, to the afterword, with additional background on history and religion of the times, it both entertains and educates. It also asks a most pertinent question: Would women comdemned as witches under one regime have been considered saints in another time and place?

I savored this book and lingered over it, not wanting it to end. It is so different from my usual preferred genre, but has opened a whole new world. The world of Bess and Alizon, their friends and neighbors, and their accusers, comes alive through all five senses: we see, hear, taste, smell, and touch, all that they do. There is a sixth sense, also, of course, and that is what makes it magical.

Somewhere, in the bright green forest of their heaven, these women and men who suffered through the pain, needless indignities, and shame of the Pendle trials, are now, finally, free to dance.
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on July 11, 2011
This is not a fantasy novel or a Barbara Walker-esque screed on the "Burning Times". The Southerns family were real people in 16th and early 17th century Lancashire, England. The matriarch of this impoverished little clan was Elizabeth, aka Mother Demdike, a woman with a gift as a "blesser". Mother Demdike was a practitioner of the Old Religion you see, namely Catholicism.

Mary Sharratt lives in the Pendle area of Lancashire and the novel is based on 1612 witch trials. The charms Mother Demdike knows and teaches to her daughter and granddaughter are out of folk Catholicism. The novel is earthy and full of a sense of place.

There is a fair amount of exposition because the novel covers over eight decades. Despite this, it never feels rushed and it slows even more at the most important things, namely, Mother Demdike's joy and love in her grandchildren as well as her heartbreak when her best friend turns to black magic and her disappointment when her daughter and granddaughters fail to pick up the mantle of local cunning woman.

Unfortunately, they learn just too much to get them into trouble....

Mary Sharratt did her research painstakingly and her connection to the locality comes through on every page. I wish I hadn't waited so long to read this, and I'll be passing my copy along so others read it as well.
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on July 24, 2013
Mary Sharratt delivers yet another wonderful piece of historical fiction with Daughters of the Witching Hill, and, as usual, it is full to the brim with strong, complex women who open their hearts and their minds on each page. This is a fascinating tale based on an actual event and many real people who were caught up in the 1612 Pendle witch trials in Lancashire, England. Rumors, innuendo, and misconceptions cause the torment and arrest of good women who were known as healers, blessers or charmers. In the bucolic setting of rural England, they were called on by their friends and neighbors to chant prayers, prepare herbal brews, poultices, etc. to heal sickness and save lives...perhaps the original manifestation of holistic medicine. Most want to do good, but for their enemies, these activities draw ire and unsubstantiated evidence of black magic. For healing, they were paid with a meal, bread, ale, meat or a few hens, meager earnings which were ultimately not worth their sacrifice.

Ms. Sharratt lived in Pendle Forest for a number of years, and this book is well-researched. Because of the notoriety of the witch trials, the court reporter wrote meticulous records at the time. Ms. Sharratt took some literary license to create a heart-wrenching and beautiful story of the love these women shared with their families and dear friends. There is also woven, through the novel, the tale of the conflict between the Catholic and Protestant faith when Elizabeth became Queen, followed by James as King and banned all Catholic rites, prayers and feasts. The faith went underground and this presented yet another threat to the people of Pendle Forest (and the country) who sorely missed their Catholic traditions and worship and secretly practiced it at risk of, in some cases, death.

This is the fourth book I've read by Mary Sharratt. She has an extraordinary talent for altering her writing style to put you in the time and place she chooses. This joins Illuminations, in my opinion, as one of her best novels. I loved it and I don't say that often.
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on July 22, 2013
I'm writing this review to help provide a little background for anyone interested in learning more about the Pendle Witches. I was born and raised in the region of Pendle, and the local folklore is rich in various accounts of the Lancashire witches. I found this fictional version to be realistic and very credible. The Lancashire witch trials set the precedent for subsequent witch hunts and for allowing the use of child testimony as evidence. These trials were really about the persecution of Catholics, who had been driven underground since the establishment of the Protestant church under Henry VIII.
For more on local history and folklore of Pendle look up Whalley Abbey and the Dissolution of the Monasteries, Abbot Paslew, Jeppe Knave. Also BBC Four made an excellent documentary 'The Pendle Witch Child' about the manipulation of the child witness Jennet Device and the reliability and use of child evidence in subsequent trials.
A character resembling Demdike ('Elizabeth Southworth' in the show) was featured in the TV series 'Most Haunted', however the show got their facts/characters/history all mixed up, and the whole thing is overly dramatised, and over the top. But if you want to get a feel of the landscape you can look it up on Youtube, just take the haunting angle with a pinch of salt. The 'Most Haunted' show is focused on an old house which still belongs to the Nutter family, descendants of Alice Nutter, one of the accused women.
As for the book, I loved it. I was really rooting for the characters even though I knew how it would end. Mary Sharrat gives a human side to this shameful period in British History
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on December 5, 2015
This is based on real events in England when there were witch hunts. It was really interesting, but honestly some of it gave me nightmares and creeps. It also shows ignorance and religious intolerance. People can be so cruel to each other when they don't understand the other culture. It's sad. However, the author made it as uplifting as possible for all of that. She is an amazing researcher and writes very well. I will never look at this era of history in the same way and will never forget this. I learned a lot. This is an adult book and wouldn't recommend it for a younger person.
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on April 18, 2013
SPOILER ALERT> Not another Salem witch trial story, Daughters of the Witching hill takes place in England's past and puts a very human face on several poor souls accused of transport with the Devil and subsequently put to death. Out of ignorance, stubbornness and sometimes ruthless bitterness, the characters in this well-told tale come to sad ends that the reader is only partly sure of until the last. Every last one is sympathetic, every character seems so real you might know them in another life. I wanted so much for there to be a twist of fate that relieved the burden of the terrible sentence, but the ring of truth only grows louder as the story winds to an end. What is most powerful about this novel is Ms. Sharratt's ability to spin a thread of lyrical words into a tale so believable, so mighty, out of very ordinary lives. Told in first person present tense, every moment feels as if you live it through Demdike's thoughts. "...Through the clouded caul that age has cast over my eyes, I catch his form. Thin as a brittle, dead stalk, he is. He's clad in the dour black weeds of a Puritan. Fancies himself a godly man, does our Dick Baldwin... 'Whores and witches' he rails, shrill enough to set the crows to flight. 'Get out of my ground.' Slashes of air hit my face as he brandishes his whip,... but it's his terror I taste."
Magnificently human. Creatively told. Truly recommended for those who are interested in history told as novel.
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on March 29, 2013
I really enjoyed this story of Bess Southern and her granddaughter, Alison Device in seventeenth century England. Considered cunning folk, Mother Demdike as she was commonly known, was a blesser. She healed and blessed ailing farm animals and family members. She could also see the future. Looked upon with a mixture of suspicion and reverence, she went about her daily life trying to keep her family together through mostly lean times, and staying out from under the baleful eye of the reformed church and it's warden. Considered a papist, she clung to the ways of the old catholic church, that had been filled with meaning and magic.
Her granddaughter Alizon was gifted as well and she tried very hard to impart the wisdom and caution necessary to use the gift wisely. But Alizon feared the gift, and spent most of her time in denial, refusing to embrace it and learn from her adored grandmother. When one time she did inadvertently use the gift out of frustration and anger, it set in motion a deadly cascade of events.
This is a very well researched fictional history of the Pendle witch trials in 1612. The story is compelling all on it's own. Add to that the fact that the events actually transpired, are as fascinating as they are chilling.The religious persecution endured throughout history spans the world. These stories while fictionalized to a degree serve as cautionary tales to never forget,for next time, they could come for you or me.
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on July 3, 2011
This is a very compelling story with substance, one with strong women characters that resonates intellectually and emotionally. It's based on the true story of the infamous and well-documented Pendle witch trials of 1612. The story is filled with atmosphere and poignant relationships showing not only the very human side of these women being accused of witch craft, but also the religious zealotry that fueled the fear. There is also a timelessness to the human flaws demonstrated in this book provoking thought on two spheres; the unspeakable actions of the past and the steadfastness of human nature. The story is told from the perspective of Bess, also known as Mother Demdike and later in the book by her granddaughter Alizon . It's interesting to see and compare how each interpreted their craft and the world they lived in. Highly recommend for historical fiction fans or anyone who has an interest in witchery. Fans of Phillipa Gregory or those who enjoyed "The Heretics Daughter "will not want to miss this one.
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