Widdershins (Spoiler Free!) Review

“Did all women have something of the witch about them?”

-Helen Steadman, Widdershins

Hey guys! As you might have seen already, I’m a fan of historical fiction, and Impress Books happens to publish some great historical novels! The latest one they’ve sent my way is Widdershins by Helen Steadman.

Set in Scotland and the small towns around Newcastle, Widdershins switches between the point of view of Jane Chandler, apprentice healer, and John Sharpe, wannabe witch-finder. Intrigued already? You should be.

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And here’s why:

Widdershins is based on the witch trials in Newcastle in 1650. It’s a period of time and place I’ve never read about, or seen in a novel before, which always draws me in immediately. The novel has a slow, brooding start, some years before the main action happens, showing us a complex study of both Jane and John as children first.

John is an interesting psychological portrait; we see him first as a caring, innocent boy, helpless against the beatings of his father and then his uncle’s raging sermons. He is a boy pulled in by forces he can’t understand, the death of his mother in childbirth is frequently blamed on the local midwife/witch, and when he experiences personal tragedy again, as an adult, he turns to anger and extreme religion to exact his vengeance. He decides his true, God-given purpose is to hunt witches and save people from the scourge of witchcraft that is sweeping across the UK.

In a direct parallel to John, we have Jane. Raised by her mother in a small village, her mother uses herbs to heal the ailments that plague the villagers, and is teaching her daughter the same ways. We see Jane grow in a loving home, her relationships mature as she grows into a woman, and how her life is sheltered in the village that protects its own. The entire story of Jane is infused with a shadow though-as the reader, we are hyper aware that troubles are brewing outside of the village, that the news that reaches Jane’s mother and other villagers from bigger towns nearby is often shocking and violent. Jane seems oblivious to the state of the world, she retains much of her innocence throughout the book, which left me both rooting for her and wanting to scream at her to pay more attention!

Although Widdershins starts more slowly, setting the scene for this character-intense read, it soon gathers pace, hurtling towards its inevitable end. There are some twists and surprises in store, but the thing that most captures the attention, is the immense attention to detail. Often the mark of the finer historical novels, Widdershins holds within its pages an immaculate grasp on the history of the 17th century witch trials, as well as day to day life in North-East England at that time. The details are great at evoking the setting, without resorting to info-dumping, and at only 238 pages, the book is easy to get through and satisfying, never boring.

Overall, I’m giving this book 4/5 stars as it was an enjoyable read and I felt I learnt a lot about a rarer scene slice of history. I recommend this to fans of historical fiction and especially witches, although be warned, there are some scenes of the witch-hunting nature that made me feel a little squeamish!

Has anyone else read many books about witch trials? What did you think of them?

If you’re interested in finding out more about Impress Books and their writing prize that’s currently still open for entries, check out my recent interview with their commissioning editorΒ here.

Widdershins will be released in the UK on July 1st, if you’re interested in the book, it’s available to pre-order on Amazon.

{Trigger Warnings: Violence, abuse, death, blood}

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11 Comments Add yours

  1. Andrew Shouler says:

    Thank you so much for all my lovely presents! 😊 xxxxxxxx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad you like them! 😊

      Like

  2. I have been on a bit of a witch kick recently so this sounds like it might be right up my alley. Great review and recommendation!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh that’s so fun! What have you been reading? Thank you for reading my review! πŸ’•

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I just finished rereading Good Omens a week ago for the third time haha. I’m also writing a story with a witch in it so they’ve been in my subconscious for a bit. You’re welcome!

        Like

  3. I really want to read this!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You can borrow mine if you like! 😊

      Like

  4. Ooo, this sounds really intriguing! I love a good historical fiction! Thanks for the great review. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading! And me too 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This sounds absolutely fascinating!!! I love learning about witches and witch trials; I actually took a seminar class in college about the History of Witchcraft and it was so interesting. The only other book I can think of that I’ve read to do with witch trials is The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane. You might enjoy it! I’m definitely going to look this up. Fantastic review and lovely picture too πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh that’s really interesting! I’ll have to check that one out. Thanks so much for reading! 😊

      Liked by 1 person

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