Monday, 28 September 2020

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Review: Witch by Finbar Hawkins

Witch by Finbar Hawkins

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Witch by Finbar Hawkins

Published: 1st October 2020 | Publisher: Head of Zeus | Cover Designer: Edward Bettison | Source: Publisher
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Set in the 17th century, a breathtaking debut, and a potential prize-winner, about the power of women, witchcraft, fury, revenge and the ties that bind us.

After witnessing the brutal murder of her mother by witch-hunters, Evey vows to avenge her and track down the killers. Fury burns in her bright and strong. But she has promised her mother that she will keep Dill, her little sister, safe.

As the lust for blood and retribution rises to fever pitch, will Evey keep true to the bonds of sisterhood and to the magick that is her destiny?
From Goodreads.

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I was sent this proof for free by Head of Zeus for the purposes of providing an honest review.


Witch sounded like a story that would be right up my street, but sadly, it was quite disappointed.

Witnessing the murder of her mother for being a witch, Evey swears to avenge her death on every man involved. But doing so is difficult with her nine-year-old sister Dill in tow, especially when it's so dangerous. Fighting with her conscience, she leaves Dill with her aunt Grey and the rest of her mother's coven, and sets out to kill those who killed her. She has no plan, only fury and her mother's scrying stone. With the help from surprising people along the way, and an unlikely friendship developing, Evey gets ever closer to her goal. But the witch hunters know she's still out there, and are hunting her, too. Will Evey be the victorios hunter, or will she be prey?

I have a number of problems with Witch, but I'll start with a positive. The writing style is quite different, and got a bit of getting used to. Evey narrates the story, but she has an old fashioned way of speaking. Not too long in I realised that she talks quite similarly to the common folk in Poldark, and once I made that connection, it kind of clicked into place. It's actually quite beautiful, and made reading Witch quite easy; there's something soothing about the way Evey tells the story, and I was quite lulled.

However, while Witch is a quick read, it took me far too long to read it. While the writing style had me enthralled when I was reading Witch, I was never really motivated to pick it up again once I put it down. Considering it's subject matter, I was really surprised how I wasn't particularly interested in Evey's story. I just wasn't gripped, and didn't really care about the characters or the outcome. It was also quite slow, considering how short it is; it's 252 pages long, but the font is quite large, so I really flew through it when reading. But not a huge amount actually happens in the great scheme of things until the fairly near the end. It's just Evey trying to find the people who killed her mother, and her obsession with killing them.

And then there's Evey herself. She's self-centered and jealous, resentful and remorseful, rash and reckless,  and at times completely thoughtless. She's a spoilt brat, really, and a bit of an unreliable narrator, as she lies to herself. With all this in mind, you would understand if I really couldn't stand Evey. But while I rolled my eyes at her a number of times, I couldn't bring myself to feel anything strongly for her one way of the other. As I've said, I just didn't really care.

The events of Witch are actually quite dark and disturbing. It starts off with a murder, breaking bones, urinating and spitting on a dead body. There are a number of deaths throughout. There is abduction of children and adults, "arrested" for witchcraft. There is a witch trial. There is a hanging. There are so many things that take place that are just horrific, but I was completely unaffected. I've read about these things before, and the anger, disgust, and horror was overwhelming. But Witch fails to bring about any real emotion in me. I didn't care about the story, I wasn't bothered by Evey one way or the other, and I wasn't affected by the terrible things that happen. I just feel there was something crucial missing from this story.

Then there's the fantasy of this historical fantasy. At first, it seems like the witches of Witch are more traditional wise women/cunning folk; there's the mention of healing, of brews and poltices, of midwifery, of turning to witches when doctors can't help. But that's all there is - mentions. You never actually see any witches doing any of this kind of magic. There's no information about what they did and how they did it. And sure, this is partly due to the fact that the story is about Evey wanting to avenge her mother's death, and that she herself spurns magic. But it also felt like it didn't matter what they did or didn't do, just that there were witches, and witches were being hunted. That's all we need to know.

But then the story takes a strange turn at around the last third/final quarter of the book, and it turns out these witches are also able to use fantasy magic... and I have absolutely no idea about how it all works. There isn't much in the way of explanation and description when this magic takes place. I never knew exactly what was happening, why it was happening, or how it led to what happened. Because of not wanting to spoil the story, I'm going to keep this quite basic, but the scrying stone would be held, and there would be thoughts, and then things would happen. Why? What does the scrying stone do? How does it work? How does it connect to your thoughts? If that is indeed what is happening, because I'm not even sure of that. And how does that lead to the actual magic? I can't tell you. It's really very sketchy.

And when it comes to history, it's also very sketchy. There's not a huge deal of historic detail that that gives a sense of time and place. Evey's in the woods, she's by a river, she's in a lord's house with stairs and hallways and paintings, she's in a rose garden, she's in a town. But we get very little in way of description to root the story in a specific time. But it's not just about description either; there would be things that happened that just didn't feel true to the time, and I'd have to suspend disbelief and just accept that what's happening even if it didn't seem very realistic. For example the friendship that develops between Evey and Anne, the high born daughter of Lord Whitaker. I'm absolutely no expert on history, but I don't believe they would actually have become as fast friends as they did in reality.  There was prejudice and inequality between the high born and the low born. I'm not saying there were no decent nobles, who didn't treat everyone below them dispicably, but I really don't think Anne would actually have helped Evey as much as she does. Forget the fact that they've only known each other for five minutes and they're the best of friends, even if they had known each other longer, I can't see their friendship becoming as strong, them becoming as close, as they did. And then there's the civil war. The civil war is integral to Evey's story - or rather the fact that a civil war is taking place is integral. The civil war itself is actually unimportant. What civil war, exactly? Why is the government trying to oust the king? Which king? Unless you actually know your history, you're going to be none the wiser, because none of those details matter.

There was also a moment in the book that I really wasn't keen on. There is a young boy in Witch we see very little of, Bob, who seems to have a developmental disability. We're never told his age, but it's made clear he's older than he acts. He doesn't recognise dangerous situations, he seems to think of everyone as a friend, and he smiles and waves at everyone. At one point, Evey describes him as being "as mad as a hare." Now I know this is a historic novel, and they didn't have the language then that we do now, but there was really no need for this description. From what his mother tells Evey and from seeing how he acts, we know he has a disability, there's absolutely no need for Evey to call him "mad." There's no reason for that use of language, nor using it to tell us what we already know. I just think it's highly offensive.

I have to say, I did love Dill and Fay. Hawkins does a brilliant job at writing children. These were the only two characters I felt anything for; they were adorable and so cute! They both brought smiles to my face, and I wish both were present for more of the story. But apart from those two and the writing style, I didn't really like this book, and was quite disappointed.

Witch really wasn't for me, sadly, but other people have enjoyed it, so do read other reviews before deciding whether or not to read it yourself.

Thank you to Head of Zeus for the proof.

You might also like:

The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave Perfectly Preventable Deaths by Deirdre Sullivan Impossible Causes by Julie Mayhew

Over to you graphic

Have you ever read a book about witch trials/hunts, and been unaffected? Or a historic novel with surprisingly little historic detail? Have you read Witch? What did you think? Let me know in the comments.

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