I have a double bill of reviews today as I jump on board the blog tour for Widdershins and Sunwise, (the Widdershins series) by Helen Steadman. Many thanks to Helen for providing me with copies of both books (and the lovely goodies that came with them!), and to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for inviting me to be a part of the tour.
Jane Chandler is learning the art of healing while John Sharpe wants to rid the world of witchcraft. In an English town gripped by superstition and fear, two destinies collide in these absorbing historical novels based on true events.
“Did all women have something of the witch about them?”
England, 1649. A sadistic witch hunter. An apprentice healer accused of witchcraft. Can she escape the hangman’s noose?
When John’s parents die at the hands of a witch, he faces a choice: an easy life with a woman who serves Satan, or a hard life with a preacher who serves God. The cursed orphan chooses the church. Raised on raging sermons, he discovers his true purpose: to become a witchfinder and save virtuous souls from the jaws of hell.
In a town mesmerized by superstition and fear, two destinies collide. As John rounds up the local witches, Jane gets more than she bargained for when bartering with the apothecary. Instead of trading herbal remedies, she finds herself on trial for consorting with the devil. Can she prove her innocence, or will she be condemned to death?
“There is a madness come upon England of late.”
England, 1650. A sadistic witch hunter. An innocent healer and her child accused of witchcraft. Can they escape the hangman’s noose?
Filled with vengeance, John will stop at nothing in his sworn mission to free the world from the scourge of witchcraft. When his quest to vanquish evil is thwarted by Jane, he decrees that she must die.
After defeating the witchfinder, Jane must continue her dangerous healing work. Alone in a hostile and superstitious village, she struggles to keep her little girl alive.
Determined to keep his vow, the witchfinder must put mother and daughter to death. When John brings the witch hunt to Jane’s home, can she herself and her child from certain slaughter?
The books of the Widdershins series make the perfect duology, with book one, Widdershins, following Jane and John from childhood to their early adult lives and Sunwise picking up the story after their first encounter in Newcastle. I found both books utterly engrossing, and as such sped through them, all the while wishing I could make them last longer and really savour them. Of course, I failed completely to do that, and actually read Sunwise from cover to cover in one sitting.
John was a character who sook me by surprise, and I enjoyed the chapters from his perspective more than I expected. I had thought that I would hate him but instead I was a presented with fascinating insight into what could change someone from sweet, kind boy to a fanatical witch hunter. I bounced from raging at his actions against innocent women and actually pitying him for the damage his early life experiences had done to him. He is a complicated man indeed!
In contrast, Jane is a much gentler character who just wants to live a quiet life with those she loves. Her story and everything that she goes through absolutely broke my heart, not least because for many women of the time, Jane’s experiences were very real dangers that they faced.
The Widdershins series is not a cheerful read, and is in fact quite harrowing in places, but it is clear to see that the author poured her heart and soul into researching the witch trials of Newcastle and Berwick and bringing them to life. I have something of a fascination with this topic, and I have to say that Widdershins and Sunwise are right up there with the best of the books that I have read about the trials.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Dr Helen Steadman is a historical novelist. Her first novel, Widdershins, and its sequel, Sunwise, were inspired by the seventeenth-century Newcastle witch trials. Her third novel, The Running Wolf, was inspired by the Shotley Bridge swordmakers, who defected from Solingen, Germany in 1687. Helen’s fourth novel is God of Fire, a Greek myth retelling about Hephaestus, possibly the least well-known of the Olympians. Helen is now working on her fifth novel.
Despite the Newcastle witch trials being one of the largest mass executions of witches on a single day in England, they are not widely known about. Helen is particularly interested in revealing hidden histories and she is a thorough researcher who goes to great lengths in pursuit of historical accuracy. To get under the skin of the cunning women in Widdershins and Sunwise, Helen trained in herbalism and learned how to identify, grow and harvest plants and then made herbal medicines from bark, seeds, flowers and berries.
The Running Wolf is the story of a group of master swordmakers who defected from Solingen, Germany and moved to Shotley Bridge, England in 1687. As well as carrying out in-depth archive research and visiting forges in Solingen to bring her story to life, Helen also undertook blacksmith training, which culminated in making her own sword. During her archive research, Helen uncovered a lot of new material and she published her findings in the Northern History journal.
Don’t forget to visit the other blogs taking part on this tour.