I hadn’t realised this book was a prequel when I began to read it but, no matter, it is a very interesting introduction to the characters of the novel, The Black Hours and now I am glad I have read it first.
Maggie and her daughter, Lizzie live in England back in the time when superstition and belief in witches was rife. ‘Healers’ or ‘cunning women’ were relied on in their villages for herbal cures and for assistance in the very dangerous process of childbirth, but at the same time they were looked upon with suspicion. If some illness misfortune occurs amongst the people of the community it is all too easy to point a finger at these most vulnerable of citizens.
The story opens with three women about to pay the ultimate price for their perceived wrongdoing. Maggie, accompanied by a reluctant Lizzie, go along to attend the hanging of three (two of them mother and daughter) not to jeer and celebrate as do most at this macabre carnival but to meet the women eye to eye, to help make them feel that they are not alone in their last moments. This duty, Maggie tells Lizzie, is just part of their job.
Life is hard for Maggie and Lizzie. The drudgery of every day life is evident and very well illustrated in the text. But things are changing, Lizzie is falling in love with just the wrong person, someone who comes from a family of huge influence in the area and the consequences for such a love match could be severe.
I really enjoyed this book, something different and insightful and much more than just a love story. I am very much looking forward to reading The Black Hours.