Paula Brackston is now high on my list for favorite authors of fantastical historical fiction (my new genre name for fantasy that's steeped in rich historical detail). The first thing that caught my eye was the cover -- for a person whose two obsessions are books and shoes, they sure nailed it on the head for me with this one. The Witch's Daughter is the story of Elizabeth (Bess) Hawksmith, a young girl living with her family in Bathcombe in the early 1600's. Bess's family is struck by the plague, leaving only Bess and her mother alive and well. The villagers fear the disease, and soon bring in a witchfinder, whose duty is to locate the witch who brought the plague to their small village. The witchfinder settles on Bess's mother, and Bess is mortified. Her own mother, a witch? Impossible. But it's true. After Bess sees her mother hanged for her alleged crimes, she escapes into the arms of a powerful sorcerer named Gideon, who transforms Bess into his equal. Fearing her newly dark nature and incredible powers, Bess escapes and plunges into a centuries-long game of cat-and-mouse with Gideon.
When we next meet Bess, she's living in modern day England as Elizabeth, an eccentric and lonely woman who sells tinctures at artisan markets. She meets a young girl, Tegan, whose admiration for Elizabeth prompts the two to start a relationship as witch and apprentice. Elizabeth tells Tegan the story of her many lives: as a surgeon in the Victorian era and a nurse during the war, and how Gideon has managed to find her in each of those roles. We hear about the heartache and loss that come with Bess's incredible powers, and this was what made me fall in love with her character.
Brackston wrote Bess as headstrong, as brilliant, devoted to healing and with strong morals, but mostly she wrote her as a flawed, ordinary human (albeit with amazing supernatural powers). That made her heartache that much more potent and made the danger posed by Gideon seem all too real. The villain in this story, Gideon, gave me stronger chills than most because his vengeance was steeped in desire, and that made him all the more dangerous and terrifying. Tegan had to have been my least favorite character, but I'll admit it was because of her immature behavior, which was actually appropriately written. The thing that I loved most about this story was that it could have easily felt like a cheesy fantasy novel, but the historical detail made it rich and sophisticated. Brackston did an excellent job jumping between eras; I fell easily into the different time periods and had no trouble picturing the scenes in my mind as I read. The book reminded me of my favorite October read from 2014, and I've already put several of Brackston's other novels on my library list.
Bottom-Line Rating: 5/5
Title: The Witch's Daughter: A Novel
Author: Paula Brackston
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books, 2011
Price: $10 on Amazon
Source: Public Library