Tuesday, 5 August 2014

The Vanishing Witch by Karen Maitland

King Richard II’s reign was troubled. It was a time when the rich got richer and the poor got poorer.

Respected cloth merchant Robert of Bassingham has acquired his wealth over many years through much hard work. Married to Edith and with two sons to whom he can teach and hand over his business to in the course of time he has little to worry about.

When wealthy widow, Caitlin, seeks him out to ask business advice Robert is only too happy to help. However, others can see that Caitlin is slowly worming her way into his affections but Robert refuses to see this. Will Robert’s good sense prevail before it is too late or can the mysterious Caitlin weave some kind of spell over him that he will not be able to extricate himself from?

Set during the Peasants Revolt in 1381 the narrative of this medieval thriller concentrates on the lives of Robert and his family. Although most of the characters were extremely well portrayed in this book I found Robert himself to be a little naïve considering the position he holds in society and which made his character a little unrealistic for me. However, throughout the book the author is suggesting that he is being induced by witchcraft into this gullible state and the plot proceeds along these lines throughout.

A time of myth and superstition, the plot is dark and rich in atmosphere and the breakdown of this one family is clearly designed to reflect the similarity of the destruction occurring within the wider society of the time.

What I really liked about this book is the way the author took a well known period of history and concentrated on the ordinary day to day lives of both the poor along with insight into the response of the merchant class. There is much written in history which focuses on the effect that history has on society with a concentration on nobility but here, the focus is on those trying to live through outrageous circumstances whilst being part of the lower echelons of society. It is this concentration that made this an engaging read and encouraged an empathy with the characters.

The author has clearly researched her topic with thoroughness and has thus made this period of history accessible to a modern audience. She is an intelligent writer and it was a pleasure to read this book.

I also loved the way each chapter opens with a superstition and introduces the idea of the significance that these beliefs had upon the actions of the characters.

Anyone, who enjoys historical novels with a mystery running through it and a hint of the supernatural will enjoy this book very much. This is the first novel I have read by Karen Maitland and I will be reading more by this author in the future.

ISBN:  9781472215017

Publisher:  Headline Review

Price:  £9.09

Total saving so far:  £331.36

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