Review 1805: The Mercies

A freakish storm kicks up one day in 1617 and drowns all the men on the island of Vardø who are out fishing. Only young boys and old men are left. There is no one to help the women, so they have to learn to fend for themselves, including fishing, which is considered unwomanly. Maren’s fiancé and her father and brother are all gone, so she must try to take care of her mother, her brother’s Sámi wife Diina, and her little baby nephew.

In Bergen, Ursa’s father has made one poor decision after another since her mother died, leaving the family relatively poor. She is happy taking care of her invalid sister, but soon she learns her father has betrothed her to Absolom Cornet, a Scot he hardly knows, who has been appointed the Commissioner of Vardøhus, the rarely occupied fort on Vardø. Her father thinks he has done well for her, but they have no idea that Cornet is being sent to root out witchcraft.

Ursa is taken aback at the primitive conditions she finds in Vardø, in remote Finnmark, and she knows nothing about keeping house. When Maren brings her some skins the villagers have prepared to keep the cold from coming up from the floor, Ursa asks her to teach her how to take care of the house and cook. Thus begins a deep friendship.

But Ursa’s husband has already begun looking for witches. The first names that come up from a vicious bunch of pious women are Maren’s Sámi sister-in-law, an older woman whose large house is a target of envy, and Maren’s bold and unconventional friend Kirsten.

The Mercies is a deeply involving fictionalization of true events in early 17th century Norway. Seldom have I felt such a growing feeling of dread as when I read this novel. It is truly gripping. It seems well researched and has believable characters.

Widdershins

Corrag

The Witches: Salem, 1692

Review 1556: Dark Enchantment

I was delighted to receive a review copy of Dark Enchantment from Tramp Press from their Recovered Voices series and decided to time my review for the season. This is especially felicitous because the movie from another Dorothy Macardle book, The Uninvited, has been my family’s go-to Halloween movie for years. This is another entry for RIPXV.

After three years of teaching, an occupation that Juliet Frith likens to drudgery, she is exhausted and unwell. Her employers, eager for her to leave because of newspaper stories about her mother, have summoned her father to take her away. Frith is an actor who can’t afford to support Juliet and doesn’t know what to do with her, but for now they are vacationing on the Côte d’Azur.

On a day trip to visit villages in the Alps Maritimes, Juliet is taken ill at an inn, so Frith makes arrangements for them to stay the entire week. Juliet improves rapidly and befriends the pregnant wife of the innkeeper, Martine, so Frith arranges for Juliet to stay there when he has to leave for a job. Juliet will be working half-time at the inn for the length of Martine’s pregnancy. It helps that Juliet has met Michael, studying trees in the nearby forest.

The lives of all the villagers are soon wrapped up in drama because of Terka, a beautiful Romany woman who is missing an eye. She has a reputation as a sorceress, and the villagers are terrified of her. Although Juliet thinks Terka is being treated unfairly, Martine’s husband René is foremost at trying to drive her out of the area, so she has turned her attentions to poor Martine as well as others. Things begin to get ugly.

This novel develops slowly at first, but it has appealing characters and kept my interest. Although the threat foretold for Juliet doesn’t really pan out, she becomes deeply involved in the fortunes of Martine and René. I enjoyed this light read very much.

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Review 1378: Widdershins

Widdershins presumably takes place in the 17th century, when Puritan elements began to go after the local wise women and midwives and accuse them of witchcraft. The novel follows two characters, John, who was raised by his mother’s midwife after her death, and Jane, whose mother is a midwife.

When John is a boy, he is sent to live with his uncle, a woman-hating Puritan. He casts off his affection for his foster mother and begins to imbibe his uncle’s beliefs. As Jane approaches womanhood, she is being taught midwifery and the use of herbs by her midwife mother and Mag, a wandering wise woman. She also falls in love with her best friend, Tom.

It’s clear from the beginning that these two characters are on a collision course. However, for me, it was taking too long to get there. I’m not a reader who requires a lot of action from a novel, but I do require something. I didn’t find these characters particularly compelling, and when I reached the halfway point, I decided to stop.

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Review 1369: The Craftsman

Thirty years ago, Florence Lovelady’s career took off when she helped capture Larry Glassbrook, a coffin maker who was burying teenagers alive. Something made her continue to visit Larry in prison, though, and now he has died. With her teenage son, Ben, she has returned to the village of Sabden, in Lancashire, for his funeral.

When Florence, or Flossie, as she is known there, goes to visit the Glassbrook house, where she was a lodger years ago, she finds a clay picture of herself. A clay picture is like a voodoo doll, used in dark magic, and was a feature of the earlier murders. This discovery makes Flossie re-evaluate the truths about the earlier murders. Although Larry confessed to the crimes, did he have an accomplice? Did he even commit the murders?

Sabden sits at the bottom of Pendle Hill, a location famous for witches. The novel returns to the past to follow the investigation of the first crimes, during which Flossie encountered a coven of white witches. Then it returns to the present, where Flossie is threatened again.

This is a fast-paced, enthralling book. It wasn’t as creepy as it was probably meant to be, but I enjoyed both police investigations. This is a good, solid thriller with a twist.

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