Review: Cunning Women by Elizabeth Lee

Title: Cunning Women

Author: Elizabeth Lee

Published: 22nd April 2021, Windmill Books

Status: Read April 2021 courtesy Windmill Books/ Netgalley UK

++++++

My Thoughts:

“Observe your womenfolk for wantonness above their usual failing, watch for the meeting of covens without a man to give spiritual strength. You must keep an attentive eye for secret knowledge of herbuse, the mark of the Devil upon the skin, for these are the signs of Wickedness”

Set in Lancashire, England during the 1620’s, Cunning Women is a debut historical fiction novel of love, loss, superstition and fate from Elizabeth Lee.

Sarah Haworth remembers a time before her father was swallowed by the sea, when her mother was looked upon kindly by her neighbours, and sought out for her healing tinctures and potions, but now, each morning, Sarah wakes and frantically searches her younger sister’s body for a sign that the devil has marked her as a witch during the night, as she and her mother are marked by the red stains on their skin. Sarah’s greatest wish is that Annie be spared her own inevitable fate, and one day escape their tiny, derelict home on Plague hill to lead a normal life, like the villagers below who shun them.

During the reign of King James, a cunning woman, one with knowledge of cures and medicines, as well as charms and curses, was condemned as a witch, though in small villages, they were still often secretly called upon for aid. Lee sets her story amongst this climate of fear and superstition, in which Ruth Haworth, left destitute and vulnerable by her husband’s death, attempts to eke out a living for herself and her three children.

When she was twelve, Sarah learnt from her mother that she too is a cunning woman and as such an ordinary life as a wife and a mother is not hers to have. It’s a destiny Sarah does not want, actively rejecting her mother’s lessons, focusing on the wellbeing of Annie, the sister gifted to them by the woods. Sarah is a sympathetic character, barely fourteen her life is one of deprivation and humiliation, yet she clings tightly to a slender thread of hope that things can change.

Lee introduces romance into the story when Sarah encounters the local farmers son. Daniel is inexplicably drawn to Sarah despite the Haworth’s reputation, and the grudge held against her family by his father. I think Lee develops the relationship quite well within the demands of the story. As love blooms between the couple, Sarah begins to imagine that a new life is with her grasp, until tragedy threatens to rip it away.

It takes a little while for the narrative to gain momentum, but suspense is woven into several threads, and when one snaps it increases the tension among the others. There were a few elements in the plot that I didn’t expect, and the ending was somewhat of a surprise too.

I’ve read a few books set in this period with similar themes recently, and I think this story compares well. Cunning Women is a bewitching and atmospheric tale.

++++++

Available from Windmill Books

Or from your preferred retailer via HiveUK I Book Depository I Booko

 

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #SundayPost #SundaySalon | book'd out
  2. Tracey (Carpe Librum)
    May 08, 2021 @ 00:39:05

    Bewitching! I see what you did there 😆

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

I want to know what you think! Your comments are appreciated.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s