An enthralling urban fantasy spanning 380 years, in this tale the witch’s daughter becomes a witch herself. Naturally. And also rather unnaturally.
The tale begins in the village of Matravers, Wales in 2007, when Elizabeth Anne Hawksmith meets a fifteen-year-old girl named Tegan and the two become friends. Living a quiet life in her comfy cottage behind a holly hedge (for protection); Elizabeth is a herbalist, a healer, and sells her crafted wares at farmer’s markets. This is a life I would conjure for myself. There is peace here, and yet she is lonely. So, when Tegan takes an interest in witchcraft, Elizabeth begins to share her Book of Shadows—the journal of her lives.
The novel is structured around sabbats and written as a diary, yet the description is rich and detailed. Born in Bathcombe, Wessex, in the 1620s, Elizabeth, or Bess, as she is known then, lives an idyllic country life with her loving mother, father, brother, and baby sister. This life calls to me, this hedge witchery, this living in the Shire. But then, the romance ends with the arrival of the Black Death. And we meet the sinister, Gideon Masters, a warlock who Bess’s mother appeals to for help when all seems lost. A life in exchange for a life. Making a deal with the devil is never wise. It is Gideon who gives Bess her tools, teaches her the chants, and helps her come into her power. And though she escapes the witchfinder who threatens to burn her, Bess cannot escape Gideon, who pursues her for the next 380 years using various disguises.
Paula Brackston is a master with language and she’s done her research. One of the things I like about this cleverly plotted book is how she spices it with well-known historical characters and settings. In London, 1888, Jack the Ripper is killing prostitutes at Whitechapel, and Bess, now Eliza, suspects it’s because of her. Now a doctor, she’s opened a clinic for prostitutes. Could the ripper really be Gideon Masters? Then, almost thirty years later, we find Bess working as a nurse at Passchendaele using her power to ease the suffering of men wounded at the front. Her visceral descriptions leave us feeling raw. Elizabeth has fallen in love, but is it safe? Who among this sea of soldiers is Gideon Masters?
Meanwhile, back in Wales 2007, her naïve new friend, Tegan, has fallen in love herself. Has Gideon found her again?
Part urban fantasy, part historical romance, there is much Wicca lore woven into this book, and with it, a darker tale, that of the cloven-footed mesmerizer who leaves nothing in his wake but death and destruction.
“This stops now,” says Elizabeth.
But how can she defeat the devil?