Purely by accident, I recently read two books based on historical fact that feature witches. In Corrag, women are falsely accused of witchcraft, and the only thing even approaching the paranormal is a woman with second sight. The Daylight Gate is about the Lancashire witch trials. It supposes that witchcraft exists and that some of the women were witches.
As in Corrag, some of the characters are based on actual people. The novel hinges on the inexplicable condemnation of one woman, Alice Nutter, who was a completely different type of person from the other accused. She is the novel’s principal character. While the Device family and the others are poor, degraded beings who practice witchcraft as well as incest and other abominations, Alice Nutter is a wealthy and apparently blameless older woman who lets them stay in a tower in the wilds of her property.
We soon find that most of the authorities’ attention toward Alice is politically motivated. Alice is known to be linked to Christopher Southworth, a Catholic priest who is implicated in the Gunpowder Plot and has fled to France. In the mind of King James, the Catholic mass and the Black Mass are indistinguishable. So too believes the repellent Thomas Potts, a lawyer who is driving the attempt to build a case against Alice. He is also writing a book about witchcraft in Lancashire. It behooves him, then, to find some actual witches.
Potts has Southworth’s sister Jane, a completely innocent Protestant, arrested with the Devices and their cohorts in an attempt to lure her brother back to England. It works, and Alice is at least guilty of harboring Southworth. As Alice skates closer and closer to danger, we learn that she will not turn back because of love, for two very different people.
This is an interesting novel rather than an affecting one. I sympathized with Alice, and even with the magistrate, Roger Nowell, who does not believe in witchcraft. Other characters, though, are despicable and some events distasteful. Details of the Devices’ lives are picaresque. Not all of the novel was to my taste.