Monday, 18 August 2014

The vanishing witch - Karen Maitland - bewitching stuff

From Goodreads ....

The Vanishing Witch by Karen Maitland, author of the hugely popular Company of Liars will thrill fans of CJ Sansom and Kate Mosse with its chilling recreation of the Peasants' Revolt. It offers an intelligent, beautifully researched glimpse of a more deadly, superstitious era ...'A compelling blend of historical grit and supernatural twists' Daily Mail on The Falcons of Fire and Ice The reign of Richard II is troubled, the poor are about to become poorer still and landowners are lining their pockets. It's a case of every man for himself, whatever his status or wealth. But in a world where nothing can be taken at face value, who can you trust? The dour wool merchant? His impulsive son? The stepdaughter with the hypnotic eyes? Or the raven-haired widow clutching her necklace of bloodstones? And when people start dying unnatural deaths and the peasants decide it's time to fight back, it's all too easy to spy witchcraft at every turn.

My review

When I heard Karen Maitland had written a new book I jumped with joy when I found a copy available for review via Bookbridgr. I accepted my advance copy with gratitude and glee and despite a teetering pile of lovely books all crying out to be read couldn't resist the chance to dive straight into the dark and menacing middle ages.

Karen Maitland truly is the Doyenne of medieval fiction and has excelled herself once more with an epic story brimming with amazing characters whom I either despised, loathed, admired, feared and in just one or two cases actually liked.

Central to this story set in medieval Lincolnshire, is cloth merchant Robert, respected member of the town council, wealthy, ambitious, yet oh so gullible and susceptible to a womans wiles. His wife Edith, mother of their two boys, young Adam and older Jan, is ailing. Robert artlessly allows a poor, attractive, widow he has taken under his wing, to enter their home ostensibly to nurse his wife. The widow, Catlin brings her beautiful young daughter Leonie and her elderly retainer Diot, into the home and soon introduces Edward, her adult son and Roberts life soon begins to spiral out of control. His loyal manservant Tenney and the scarred yet kind Beata look on in horror as the well ordered life they have known is ripped apart and become a sham. Everyones lives are changed subtly at first then with more sinister and darker events. I mistrusted almost everyone at one point or another, and the only person who bumbles along unheedingly is the main character Robert.

The only slight niggle I had with is, surely, SURELY no man could be as easily taken in as Robert, there were points where I wanted to scream at him - "Oh you FOOL" but if he hadn't been a malleable character the story might have panned out very differently.

We also meet another family, local peasants, Gunter a one legged boatman, his wife and children living in a hovel and struggling for every mouthful whose paths cross those of Roberts family and they are dragged even lower by circumstances.

The background is the peasants rebellion and there is a good deal of truly gory and gritty historical fact, which as you know is often stranger than fiction, woven through the book.

The story is narrated by a ghost and there are many references to ghostly characters all based on local legend, so I'd recommend anyone local to Lincolnshire to read this, it's an area I'm not familiar with yet this time travel trip has left me feeling it must be a very atmospheric place steeped in history and legends.

Interspersed with local myths, traditions and beliefs related to superstition and witchcraft the story is as unputdownable as all of Karen Maitlands previous novels. It's authenticity and elegance of prose, subtly draws the reader in and then tightens its grip until you are flying through the pages. I was eager to discover who the sinister character in a dark hood is who keeps appearing, what kind of dark magic is in play and who is bewitching whom?

A tempting, beguiling and truly bewitching read, for the reader who loves their historical fiction to contain a little bit of everything presented with an authentic magical quality.

My thanks go to Bookbridgr and Headline Publishing for my copy.


  1. Great review Jan, not my usual genre but I might have to give this a try!

  2. Sounds like this could be one for me. I like Kate Mosse books and the OH is raving about CJ Sansom. I seem to be having a slump at the moment so a trip to the library for some new reads may be in order.

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