Witch Child by Celia Rees was the prize for my Giveaway Carnival event in November, and the lucky recipient agreed to provide her review to be posted alongside my own here. Thanks to Asli of the Proudbookworm blog for extending and strengthening an act of generosity into becoming an act of creativity!
|Eva's review: Witch Child is an interesting blend of researched history with paranormal overtones - generally lumped into the genre of 'speculative fiction'. The main character, Mary, is shuttled off to the colonies after her grandmother and primary caregiver is hung as a witch.|
And through this trial and trauma, Mary has to hide her own identity as a witch.
Calling herself a witch, I first thought, referred to the simple herbal poultices that were the forte of wise-women and midwives since time immemorial. Nearly ever village had someone who was considered gentle-handed, skilled with the delivery of babies, the easing of fevers, the setting of bones. Yes, these women were targeted by the witch-hunters. So it would seem that Mary's poor grandmother was targeted as well.
In the colony, she tries gamely to blend in but is extremely fearful of being found out. An adventurous spirit, she takes off to explore the countryside and does other things that would be highly unusual for her gender and place in time. Gradually, the suspension of belief required for me to treat this as an alternative work of fiction ebbed, and I started to think less well of the book. When Mary actually evinces some paranormal tendencies, I became completely disengaged.
I love science fiction and fantasy, and if this book was going to go there I was ready for Mary to summon a nightmare, ride it back to England and have it out with the witch hunters. Instead of that, there was a rather tepid venture into divination on Mary's part, and an embrace of native culture and eco-friendliness that seemed very anachronistic for its day. In a time when the colonists, historically, lived in fear of the darkening forest and the real dangers therein, young Mary treats it as one might an Arboretum. In a time where survival depended on the community pulling together and working fearfully long hours to bring in the harvest, Mary has quite a bit of time for her musing.
This book showed a lot of promise, and presented much that was thought provoking. For a reader who was after a tale that introduced the witch hunts of the 16th century, this would fit the bill. But I would hope that none who came to the book for that reason would stop there, but would instead also seek more material of depth to show further the complex social relations of that time. Or, that they might go on to read further witchy science fiction.
Poppin's review: Witch Child is a fun read about the witch trials that plagued the nation before. After reading another YA book about the witch trials, The Burning Time by Carol Matas, I've been interested in the subject. The whole situation then must have been a stressful one, where you'd always have to watch your back. If someone doesn't like you, then you're a witch. If a boy likes you, but you get married to someone else, guess what you're a witch as well. If a baby dies while you are the midwife, you are a witch. If you look at the cattle in the wrong way and it dies, then you are a witch and a very evil one at that.
As I said before, you'd always be wary because you don't want to be called a witch and you definitely don't want to be tortured, because the torture methods for determining who was a witch or not was gruesome and completely stupid.
Despite all that, the witch trials were very interesting to read and I was excited to read this book, which I won from Evagation. Witch Child is told in diary form, which sometimes poses as a problem since you feel like you don't get the whole story, but Mary is a very observant young woman and that problem didn't arise. Mary is a good narrator and her journey from Britain to the States is one filled with hardship and many trials. Including the death of her grandmother, the only family Mary has ever had.
Mary travels to the States, hoping to be spared from the witch hunts but soon realizes that she'll have to be even more careful in this new world. Her new friends provide some comfort, as well as the Indians, but Mary soon finds herself in the middle of an angry priest and a group of spiteful young women.
Mary starts her diary off by saying she is a witch, which I liked, because I thought it brought her back to her grandmother. However, Celia Rees does give Mary some powers and as well as giving Mary's grandmother some perks. This part didn't sit well with me, because I expected Mary to be a regular girl trying to survive and not be an actual witch. It took me out of the story a little bit. Mary is also very open-minded and isn't too afraid of the Indians, or dressing up as a boy and heading out into the woods alone. I didn't mind this so much, but considering the context of the story, it did seem very foolish on Mary's part. Almost like, she wanted to be caught.
I did like the book and think it would be great for those who love YA novels, I just wish Mary was a regular girl.