The Vanishing Witch
Buy or Borrow: Buy
Source: Copy courtesy of Bookbridgr
I confess, I haven't read any of Maitlands previous books, what drew me to The Vanishing Witch was the synopsis, being the history nerd that I am! And who can resist anything implying witchcraft?!
In the pages of The Vanishing Witch we dive headfirst in to the reign of Richard II, a true boy King, but unfortunately his reign is a tad bit troubled, with the poor facing some incredibly hard times when the poll tax takes the poor and makes them poorer. Not a fantastic time to live in, one could say. Hardly surprising that the poor rose up and riots broke out, with peasants fighting back, including one of our characters, Gunter.
While Gunter and his son become embroiled in the riots and we see the harsher side of life in 1380, we also see how the other half life. Gunter's boss, a wealthy wool merchant, happens to meet Widow Catlin, and it's not long before he's thoroughly enchanted, and his poor wife suddenly takes ill. Then promptly dies. With his son Jan crying murder, and Robert deaf to anything negative about Catlin, things aren't gonna be good! With a strange man following him, and seeing treachery everywhere, not to mention strange deaths everywhere, Robert comes to believe the only people he can trust are Catlin and her odd daughter. But all is not as it seems, some people aren't who they appear to be, and some aren't quite as innocent as they want you to believe.
Yes I know, I could have worded that clearer or made it clearer, but it's so hard to do so without some major spoilers going down! Anyways, we see a year of their lives, and the action is mostly centered around Lincoln with a brief jaunt to London.
I really enjoyed how we had the main story of Robert and Catlin and all that entailed, and seeing what life was like for the wealthy merchant, as well as how certain events effected him, and then having the side story of his employee, sort of, woven in to it showing how things where for the poorer half and how circumstances effected them.Both stories where perfectly woven together, with the characters each being crucial to the other at one point, but mostly having not much interaction despite being in the same world.
I just loved how you got two vastly different perspectives of what life was like at the time, and it was a huge insight. Although it was sometimes a slightly brutal insight, the book doesn't romanticize the time like so many do, we're treated to all the gritty details, some of which involving the revolt, are quite grim to say the least. Not to mention how you see how easily neighbours with grudges can go very badly when events such as in the book are going on.
Right from the opening pages, you're drawn straight in by the atmospheric writing and the world being woven, not to mention the curious little legend/myth right at the beginning which sets the tone of the book quite nicely. If that doesn't hook you, then the sufficiently creepy prologue will! As soon as you read you just have to know what happens next? Who is that man? and so on.
One of the things I loved about the book was how all the chapters had little tips/lore/whatever you wanna call it at the top, some of which where really interesting, this one, for example:
"If a storm is raging, it may be stilled if a woman strips herself naked and presents her body to the storm. For this reason figure-heads of bare-breasted women are often set on the prow of a ship to still the waves and abate the tempest."
I mean that one in particular I found fascinating, as I guess I'd never really questioned what the deal was with the ships having those figure-heads. Then there are others such as:
"If you fear that you are in the presence of a witch, clench both your hands into fists with the thumbs tucked under your fingers. Then she cannot enchant your mind"Ones such as that really helped to plunge you in to the time, and the way of thinking of the characters and generally of people at the time. And again it was a fascinating look in to a world long lost to us. The chapter headers further help to draw you in to the world and times, as well as introduce you to the superstitions!
The story was fast paced, the flow smooth and the narrative engaging, with the chapters all being relatively small, so it's quite easy to zoom through it. The world was suitably crafted to give you a sense of what it was like, and as I said, the writing was very atmospheric throughout.
The characters are all fleshed out, and interesting, and at points you think you know a character, and then you discover something about them or that they did and you're like "oookay maybe not", they all have different faces shall we say?
I loved the sense of mystery the entire time you're reading, personally, I thought the book was going in one direction and then it abruptly went in another, the plot twists where truly OMG worthy. I mean, one of them, I'd kind of guessed, but I was like no it can't be, and I was trying to work out who else it could be, and then I was like "no way I was right whaaaatt". Each twists is a surprise and a shock.
From the very beginning you just read about Catlin and you can hear Snape in the back of your mind going "people might think you're.....up...to something". Seriously. As you read, Catlin's facade gradually melts away and you see her true colours, and find out more about her she goes from mildly suspicious to straight up biatch. Edward isn't even sly with his murderous intentions! I didn't suspect what he was up to at all, I just thought...well that he was lazy, I suppose?
One of the biggest mysteries, and one I couldn't work out, was who our mysterious narrator was who'd pop in at the beginning of some chapters before we rejoined our characters. That was a huge point of intrigue because he was obviously a ghost, and ya know, he had a ghost ferret, which was pretty awesome! It also added that extra dose of creepy! You don't find out who he is until right at the end and again, screeching "no waaayy" occurred, because for some reason, I'd never considered he could be who he was.
As I said, we are told the tale partially from this nameless ghost, and then from other main characters perspectives, which I thought was done fantastically, considering we see some characters perspective, never suspect who they are, and then the next thing you know they turn out to be someone different, but you never ever suspect. There's nothing in those characters narrative that would have you think they're anything other than who they say they are. Maitland gives nothing away!
The Vanishing Witch is dark, fast paced book, that will plunge you in to a world and a time you'll leave at the end of the book feeling glad you didn't live in. Laced with mystery, ghosts, witchcraft, murder and supersitions, you'll not fail to be intrigued the entire time and unable to stop reading!