"I Must Read, Read, and Read. It is my Vocation." - Thomas Merton
This is where I chronicle my reading life. I also blog about writing at Lacey's Late-night Editing.
I was really interested in this book because I wanted to learn more about Medieval European witchcraft trials, and because it features a young Queen Elizabeth, and Queen Elizabeth is one of those figures from history that intrigues me. Add in some Catholic tension in the form of the reformation and Spanish Inquisition, and this book should have been just my thing.
Unfortunately, it falls far short of its potential, devolving into something along the lines of a paranormal historical romance. I think it suffers the most from the writing, which is totally pedestrian. Check out, for example, this lovely mixed metaphor:
"He could smell a lie when he heard one."
Um ... does he have synesthesia? 'Cause last time a checked, I couldn't smell the things I heard.
I hardly ever felt any sense of tension because it was so overwritten, with the narrator saying things like, "I was scared I was going to die today," rather than capturing what such a fear might actually feel like (and when it did, using trite descriptions like sweaty palms and a pounding heart). None of the characters were all that interesting, including the young Elizabeth, who came across mainly as a spoiled brat. The narrator and central character, Meg Lytton, is still less interesting. She has a totally bipolar relationship with her love interest, being totally cold to him in one scene and pining for him excessively in another. I also found it hard to buy that a Catholic priest-in-training at the time would pursue a relationship with a known witch, especially since she didn't hide her witchcraft from him or from anyone. Perhaps I could have bought it if he seemed at all conflicted about the relationship, but the only regret he expressed was over some bogus prophecy that the woman he loved would die in childbirth.
And wow, if I was a suspected witch at the time of the European witch-hunt craze, I would NOT practice magic at every opportunity, including while in a room with my interrogator. I saw another review describe Meg's relationship with her magic as an "addiction", which is probably the only way to justify how stupidly she wields her power. And although the punishment for witchcraft was absolutely abhorrent, and although I hold no support for the practices that take place in ANY witchcraft trial, it still rubbed me the wrong way that Meg kept insisting she wasn't a witch, when in fact, she was and flaunted it at every opportunity. This is no story about a misunderstood pagan or wise woman; it's a story about an "actual" witch and the way she manages to survive despite the repeatedly sloppy choices she makes regarding her "secret."
I did like the way that the author described a witch's power as being somehow "undeniable", implying that to fail to use it was a betrayal of self:
"A woman did not choose the gift. The gift chose her, and even if she averted her face for years, there could be no ignoring the small, insistent voice in the dark watches of the night that told how she spent her power on sweepings and cradlings and nothings, how she poured the gift away in dirty water every day, while here true self lay hidden and unused, like gold at the back of a drawer."
"Magick is my power. You are asking me to lay aside my only power in the world."
But still, did she have to carry out her "calling" in such needlessly risky ways? Good thing she's fictional, 'cause I don't think a real woman with as little subtlety as Meg possesses would have made it out of that time period alive, much less with a hunky priest in pursuit.