Monday, 11 May 2015

Book Review - Witch Child by Celia Rees | ★★★★

1659: Mary, a 14-year-old girl from England, was raised by her grandmother, her parents left her at an early age, in a cottage at the very edge of a forest. After her grandmother was hanged as a witch, Mary has to leave her home. She is brought to a noblewoman who helps her acquire a new identity. It turns out that this noblewoman is her long lost mother. To escape prosecution, her mother decides it is best for Mary to join the group of settlers heading to America.
“I looked into her eyes, and saw my own staring back, the same peculiar shade, pale grey, flecked with yellow, rimmed with black. Now I knew the nature of her debt. It had weighed on her conscience for fourteen years. I was looking into the eyes of mother and I knew that I would never see her again.” 
On the ship Mary makes friends with Martha, Jonah and the Rivers family, but she lives in constant fear that her true nature will be revealed. Again and again, witches are mentioned whenever something bad happens, and Mary´s fear keeps growing. After a long journey, the settlers finally reach Salem, but shortly after, they continue travel to reach Beulah, a settlement in the wilderness, which was built by the preceding congregation. Mary lives together with Martha, Jonah and Tobias in a House, while the Rivers build a home next to them.
“In the town live witches nine: three in worsted, three in rags, and three in velvet fine...” 
Mary spends a lot of time in the forest, helping the apothecary Jonah learn the healing properties of local plants. One day she meets and befriends Jaybird, a native American boy who teaches her about the land.

When Reverend Johnson asks Martha to tend his sick children, he questions Mary´s faith in God, warning she must live by God´s word as Reverend Johnson knows everything happening in the community. Mary later helps his wife Goody Johnson and learns that her husband saved her from being drowned as a witch. After Goody dies during childbirth, the witch hunts begin in her new home and Mary fears that people will find out about her roots.

Witch Child became one of my favourite books. Celia Rees´ style of writing really fascinated me and I liked how she described the surroundings of Mary´s life and especially nature.
“Colored lights shone right across the northern sky, leaping and flaring, spreading in rainbow hues from horizon to zenith: blood red to rose pink, saffron yellow to delicate primrose, pale green, aquamarine to darkest indigo. Great veils of colour swathed the heavens, rising and falling as light seen through cascading curtains of water. Streamers shot out in great shifting beams as if God had put his thumb across the sun.” 
While I was reading, I could really empathise with Mary´s fear and got to know her friend like she did. This was mostly due to the book being written like a journal and the entries being very lifelike. I really believed that the story was true.

In the prologue a woman called Allison Ellman explains that the story is made up from a ´remarkable collection of documents termed The Mary Papers´, so it seems like the story is based on real facts. Even in the end Allison Ellman asks to send her any information about the mentioned families and persons, places and occurrences to her E-mail. To my disappointment I found out (only a few days ago) that this belonged to the story, too. There was no girl called Mary whose grandmother was killed a witch and who had to flee from the witch hunts (or there may have been, but we don´t know because there is no proof). This story, however, is completely made up. Sadly. But this demonstrates Celia Rees´ credible story writing even more.

I recommend reading this book, especially if you´re a fan of stories about peoples lives at the time where witch hunts were considered normal.