‘Did all women have something of the witch about them?’
From the back cover:
Jane Chandler is an apprentice healer. From childhood, she and her mother have used herbs to cure the sick. But Jane will soon learn that her sheltered life in a small village is not safe from the troubles of the wider world.
From his father’s beatings to his uncle’s raging sermons, John Sharpe is beset by bad fortune. Fighting through personal tragedy, he finds his purpose: to become a witch-finder and save innocents from the scourge of witchcraft.
Inspired by true events, Widdershins tells the story of the women who were persecuted and the men who condemned them.
I have always been drawn to books about witch-hunting, I love reading about people’s logic for determining who is a witch and who isn’t. Previously, I’ve more been drawn to historical crime fiction with a gory murder at its core – Widdershins has taught me I don’t need a gory murder to enjoy this genre – I loved reading about the mixing of lotions and potions and what life was like in 17th century Britain. And where else, but historical fiction, would you find words such as “twas” and “unbeknownst” and who doesn’t love a good “hue and cry!”
Widdershins has alternating narratives between Jane (in England) and John (in Scotland), and it’s no spoiler that their paths are destined to cross. Oh, I simply loved the chapters featuring Jane, such a sweet girl – and if she is a witch, she’s a good one, so leave her alone Mr Witchfinder!
If I were to sum up this novel, I’d describe it as a journey, Jane’s journey, and John’s journey – both a pleasure to read. One more likeable than the other but I was equally invested in both of their stories. Steadman has a lovely tone to her writing, one that allows you to forget your surroundings and lures you back in time to the 17th century. It had me wondering what it’d be like if I lived in those times and I think it’s always a positive when a book has the power to tap into your imagination in this way.
John from a young age is wary of witches, he grows to hate them with a passion; believing he is doing God’s work, he begins to hunt. What I really liked about this novel is it doesn’t open with witch-hunting, we learn about John’s life first – the events and the people who shaped his beliefs – and you’re just waiting for him to grow up and do wrong, for innocent lives to fall at his hands. While Jane was my favourite of the two characters, I believe John had the better character development, to start out, I felt sorry for him as his dad was clearly an evil man, but witnessing the evolution of John left me hating him.
Steadman has a way with words and that shined through in this novel, one of my favourite lines:
“Nowadays, I felt Dora’s presence in my life like a stain on my soul.”
That’s John talking about the woman who raised him from birth, and I believe if you read this novel, this line will appeal to you, as much as it did to me, because it also shows how far from grace John has fallen.
I really liked how Steadman bought this novel to a close, it was very well written and I loved the ending, you know when you read a good ending and you close the book smiling because you’re so impressed – Widdershins had me smiling.
What I felt was an additional lure, was knowing this novel was inspired by true events. If you’re a fan of historical fiction that centres around witch-hunting, love novels rich in detail, I absolutely recommend Widdershins. And let’s not forget to mention – the cover – gorgeous!