The Vanishing Witch by Karen Maitland


By the pricking of my thumbs …

Lincoln, 1380. A raven-haired widow is newly arrived in John of Gaunt’s city, with her two unnaturally beautiful children in tow.

The widow Catlin seems kind, helping wool merchant Robert of Bassingham care for his ill wife. Surely it makes sense for Catlin and her family to move into Robert’s home?

But when first Robert’s wife – and then others – start dying unnatural deaths, the whispers turn to witchcraft. The reign of Richard II brings bloody revolution, but does it also give shelter to the black arts?

And which is more deadly for the innocents of Lincoln?

My Review

Set during the reign of the young Richard II this book weaves supernatural elements with historical facts, taking place mainly around the city of Lincoln between September 1380 to September 1381 with the well-known Poll Tax riots led by Wat Tyler set as the backdrop to the story.

In the small village’s outside of the city work is hard to find and the families are already living in poverty but their troubles are about to become worse with the introduction of the new and increased poll tax law. A tax that must be paid for every person in a household over the age of fifteen. Not trusting those paying to declare everyone in their family, Commissioners would visit and carry out intrusive and crude investigations into the age of children living there which caused outrage among the people already struggling to pay. And it is that causes the commoners Poll Tax riots.

The chapters switch narrators so you get to see and feel the storyline from different perspectives including a mysterious deceased narrator who would pop up at the beginning of some chapters before we rejoin our characters. That is a big point of intrigue because whom ever it is they are obviously a ghost, with their very own ghost pet ferret! 🙂  but you don’t find out who it is until right at the end. And I can safely say  I’d never have guessed who it turned out to be and it makes a brilliantly clever ending to the book.

The other main characters include Caitlin and her children, the arrogant Edward and the sinister Leonia. The wool merchant Robert Bassingham for whom Caitlin has set her sights on regardless to the fact he is a married man and father. The Bassingham family’s servants, Beata and Tenney and Robert’s tenant and local riverman Gunter and his family. There are a number of plot twists along the way which will have you altering  your perception of the different characters as you read on. Probably on more than one occasion as things are not always as they first appear!

The characters were so real, the plot was fascinating and I absolutely loved it. Full of tales of ghosts, sorcery and witchcraft, this is a tale of murder and magic and mysteries that give a fascinating look in to a world and rituals long-lost to us.

At the start of each chapter there is lore and anti-witchcraft charms written from the medieval times which added a really nice touch. It’s amazing to think that they believed these signs and superstitions really worked.

Here are a few:

“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 figureheads of bare-breasted women are often set on the prow of a ship to still the waves and abate the tempest.”

“A killing ointment made of arsenic, vitriol, baby’s fat, bats blood and hemlock may be spread on the latches, gates and doorposts of houses in the dark of night. Thus can death run swiftly through a town”

😂 (Please don’t try this at home!)  😂                                                                                                           “To guard against witches, draw the guts and organs from a dove while it still lives and hang them over the door of your house. Then neither witch nor spell can enter.”

There are also historical notes and the timeline of the Peasants revolt at the back of the book, as well as a helpful glossary of words you might need some clarification on such as Dwale, BroggersViaticum, and Mortrews.

The Vanishing Witch had me totally under its magic spell from start to finish and I enjoyed it so much I have just pre-ordered her new book – A Gathering of Ghosts which is out soon –  6th Sep 2018. Both can be purchased from the links below and at the moment The Vanishing Witch is only £0.99 so pick up a bargain priced copy now! 

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