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Book 59: Book of Shadows/The Witch's Daughter by Paula Brackston

UK Cover
Book 59: Book of Shadows/The Witch's Daughter.
Author: Paula Brackston, 2009.
Genre: Contemporary/Historical Fantasy-Horror. Witchcraft.
Other Details: Paperback. 384 pages.

My name is Elizabeth Anne Hawksmith, and my age is three hundred and eighty-four years. If you will listen, I will tell you a tale of witches. A tale of magic and love and loss. A story of how simple ignorance breeds fear, and how deadly that fear can be. Let me tell you what it means to be a witch.

In the spring of 1628, the Witchfinder of Wessex finds himself a true Witch. As Bess Hawksmith watches her mother swing from the Hanging Tree she knows that only one man can save her from the same fate: the Warlock Gideon Masters. Secluded at his cottage, Gideon instructs Bess, awakening formidable powers she didn’t know she had. She could not have foreseen that even now, centuries later, he would be hunting her across time, determined to claim payment for saving her life.
- synopsis from author's website.

Throughout the years Bess is forced to move frequently in order to protect the secret of her immortality and to evade Gideon. Aside from the section where we learn of how Bess became a witch in 1628, her story continues in London where in 1888 she works as a doctor at the Fitzroy Hospital and also runs a clinic for prostitutes in Whitechapel during the Ripper murders. Later in 1917 she works as a nurse in heart-breaking conditions near the front lines. These historical sections are slotted in between Bess in the present day where she is living a quiet life in an English village and befriends Teegan, a lonely teenager, who has an instinctive feel for magic.

US Cover
I enjoyed this and felt the depiction of witchcraft was better than found in many novels. No mutterings about 'mortals' even if in this case Elizabeth had every right to given her near immortal status.

I did have some quibbles with the novel. While I felt the depictions of Victorian London and trench warfare in WWI were well realised along with the changes in medical practices throughout the centuries, there was little sense of linking between these past events and the present. It felt rather episodic. I also thought it a little odd that Elizabeth said that she aged 5 or so years for every hundred years yet appeared in her 50s in 2007. She still seems quite a young woman in 1917, so was there a spell to mask her youth?

I also felt the author was rather muddled in terms of the theology involved. Satan and demons come into play in the section based in the 17th century yet in the present Elizabeth talks about the Goddess and Wiccan/Pagan festivals, some of them very modern. I felt there needed to be more said about this shift in her belief system. When did it happen? How? Also, Elizabeth's negative reaction to the pleasant local vicar in modern setting seemed odd and out of place for someone who has lived through so many years. Again, the reason for this aversion was not addressed.

Overall, I was happier with it than with many novels depicting witchcraft and found it an engaging read despite my quibbles. I certainly plan on reading more of Paula's work. As the cover art indicates it was published with different titles in the UK and USA. In this instance I felt the UK cover was rather bland compared to the vibrancy of the USA one.

Paula Brackston's page on The Witch's Daughter - contains link to excerpt and audiobook sample as well as details on her next novel.
Tags: angels/demons, contemporary, fantasy, historical fiction, period fiction (20th century), wicca, witchcraft

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