Book Review: Witch by Finbar Hawkins

‘Witch’ by Finbar Hawkins, cover design by Edward Bettison

At this time of year, when the nights remain long and the weather is uninviting, there are few things more satisfying than curling up indoors with a good book. Witch by Finbar Hawkins is the perfect atmospheric and supernatural way to spend the cold, dark, winter evenings.

Inspired by the seventeenth century English witch-hunts that were led by so-called Witchfinder General, Matthew Hopkins, Witch allows us a glimpse into a world where the persecution of those who were accused of practising witchcraft resulted in the torture and hangings of hundreds of innocent victims.

When Evey and her little sister Dill witness the brutal murder of their mother by witch-hunters, a final promise is made and their childhood is cruelly snatched away from them. Evey must find the power to protect herself and her sister, but her hunger for revenge forces her to make a choice that goes against their mother’s dying wish. 

This is a period novel that confidently creates a world in which natural magic exists. The first half of the book is set in the countryside where the natural world looms large and Evey has a mystical connection with the trees, birds and plants that have surrounded her throughout her childhood. I love historical fiction that embraces nature and Witch brings Evey’s world to life by beautifully capturing the details of light, sounds and the creatures that inhabit the forest. The absence of the modern world is isolating and dramatic but this is Evey’s home and it has been invaded by intruders who would break its spell. The second half of the story is set in the city where noisy crowds of people go about their lives and the accused witches face trial and public execution. It is here that Evey finds friends who know the value of this alleged witchcraft and help her to understand what that power can do.

Evey is not initially the easiest character to like. She is stubborn, selfish and full of resentment towards her sister. But the relationship between her and Dill is brilliantly complex. Their love for each other is fierce and the fight to save each other from the men who murdered their mother drives the narrative throughout the book. The theme of sisterhood and the many emotions that are wrapped up in that relationship is a thread that weaves between different characters and is repeatedly used to great effect. The girls’ aunt steps in to care for them in place of their mother and Evey befriends Anne, a woman whose grief for her own sister unites them on the path to freedom. 

Hawkins has conjured an eerie tale full of magic, revenge and the bond of sisterhood. This is an intense and fascinating fictional account that uses real-life witch-hunts as a springboard to imagine a world in which women with real powers could fight against those who sought to harm them and those who were accused of being witches.

Witch is the ideal story for those cold, dark nights when the spell cast by a magical tale can whisk you back in time to a dramatic and dangerous place.

You can find out more about author Finbar Hawkins and his books on his website. You can also follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Witch is published by Zephyr Books who kindly sent a copy to me for review.

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