Sunday, December 30, 2012

Witch Child by Celia Rees

TITLE: Witch Child
AUTHOR: Celia Rees
PUBLISHER/YEAR: Candlewick/2002
SERIES: One Sequel (Sorceress)
SOURCE: Purchased

Goodreads / Author's Website

I bought this book years ago when it was first released, but didn't read it until the other day. It had a gorgeous cover. It sounded like a book I would like, but every time I picked it up I was bored to death. I couldn't get into the story at all and I would put it down again. I have to admit that even now I nearly didn't finish it. I pushed through only because it was the book that was in my purse for some long transit trips, but you know what, I'm glad I persevered.

This is a fictional story, but it's based in history and told as if it really is a young girl's journal. Mary Newbury is a witch. Or so she thinks. She was raised in England in the mid 1600s by her grandmother, but her world changes when her grandmother is tried and hanged for witchcraft. Knowing that she's unsafe staying at home, Mary is swept off to New England, across the ocean. Afraid that her grandmother actually had powers and that those powers were passed down to her, Mary tries to keep her head down, but in the puritanical town she arrives at, she is no more safe there than back in England. 

Okay, so historical young-adult fiction with a little bit of the supernatural thrown in? Perfect right? Unfortunately this book has a very slow start. It took me ages to get into the story. It reads so much like a journal without much exciting happening that I wasn't fully engaged. It also bothered me that while it was difficult to engage with the characters it was also difficult to not predict what was coming. We've all heard of the Salem Witch Trials so I definitely went in with some assumptions about how the story would end. 

That having been said, the book became much more engaging once Mary arrived in Beulah, the fictional town near Salem. Mary is a very isolated character because of her circumstances, but once she began to build relationships I could care more about her. Her relationship with Martha, the older woman who took her in when she first arrived at the docks was touching as was the friendship between Mary and Rebekkah, a young woman about the same age as Mary. She formed a family of outsiders and they became a group of people I could fall in love with.

There wasn't a lot of references to actual  magic in the book, sticking mainly to a sort of historical realism. However, there was enough present to have me questioning whether or not there was something to Mary's claims that she was a witch. The brief mentions of visions and a few other incidents were intriguing if not conclusive. It was a part of the novel that I really enjoyed.

Witch Child, in hindsight, is an interesting look at intolerance in the seventeenth century. It examines not only the puritanical views and laws as well as the societal prejudices that lead to witch hunts. Yes, it took a long time to get into the story, but I'm so glad I finished it. It's not the best historical fiction I've read, but it was unique. I'm going to read the sequel as by the end I was actually caring about what happened to Mary and all those outsiders with whom she surrounded herself. 

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