Science fiction and fantasy                                            

Witch Child

by Celia Rees


Witch Child is a little outside the normal remit of Warpcore SF, since it's largely a novel of historical fiction, with only a hint of the supernatural. But as the title suggests, that hint is one of the pivotal parts of the story.

Witch Child takes the form of Mary's journal. It all begins in England in 1659 with the torture and hanging of her grandmother, who was accused of witchcraft. She is taken to safety by a wealthy woman she has just met, before people have time to turn on her as well and accuse her of witchcraft because of her family connection. Mary joins a group of Puritans who embark on a journey to the New World in order to find a new life that's free from religious persecution.

Mary is very careful to hide her past and to go unnoticed, but she's an outsider with a natural tendency to rebel. Her skills with herbs and healing, and even her ability to read and write mark her out as different and put her in danger. The ship to the New World is a claustrophobic place to be, and when the pilgrims must stay together for the sake of their own survival there's little chance of any privacy.

An atmosphere of fear pervades the novel, as Mary struggles against the constraints of a strict Puritan way of life. She is terrified that she will be unveiled as an impostor, but on the frontier there are few places to run. The primitive and often squalid lives of the settlers are brought vividly into focus as they face the very real possibility of death with startling regularity.

Witch Child is an intense novel, close and personal. Mary is a young character on the brink of womanhood, and so inevitably there are hints of romance and relationships, but this book pays more attention to issues such as the psychology of persecution and faith. There's just enough of a whiff of the supernatural to keep you guessing whether Mary really is a witch, or if it's all in her head. It's a fast-paced story which pays close attention to historical details. If there's a fault it's that some of the less significant characters lack nuance. But on the whole this is a gripping, intelligent story that will leave readers with plenty to think about.

Book Details

Year: 2000

Categories: Books

    Female Protagonist  

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4 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson