Come with me to the outer reaches of Norway today, as I join the blog tour for the historical fiction novel The Witches of Vardø by Anya Bergman. Many thanks to Anya for providing me with a copy of the book, and to Tracy at Compulsive Readers Blog Tours for inviting me to take part.
They will have justice. They will show their power. They will not burn.
Norway, 1662. A dangerous time to be a woman, when even dancing can lead to accusations of witchcraft.
When Zigri, desperate and grieving after the loss of her husband and son, embarks on an affair with the local merchant, it is not long before she is sent to the fortress at Vardø to be tried and condemned as a witch.
Zigri’s daughter Ingeborg sets off into the wilderness to try to bring her mother back home. Accompanying her on this quest is Maren – herself the daughter of a witch – whose wild nature and unconquerable spirit gives Ingeborg the courage to venture into the unknown, and to risk all she has to save her family.
Also captive in the fortress is Anna Rhodius, once the King of Denmark’s mistress, who has been sent to Vardø in disgrace. What will she do – and who will she betray – to return to her privileged life at court?
These Witches of Vardø are stronger than even the King of Denmark. In an age weighted against them they refuse to be victims. They will have their justice. All they need do is show their power.
Based on the real Finnmark witch trials of 1662-63 The Witches of Vardø is a hauntingly beautiful book. Having loved Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s The Mercies, I was delighted to discover another author looking at the Scandinavian trials.
Told from the perspectives of two very different narrators, proud, privileged Anna and young, impressionable Ingeborg, The Witches of Vardø shows how no woman was safe from persecution as a witch. Ingeborg is easy to love. She cares deeply for her family and is willing to do whatever it takes to protect them, even if that means venturing towards people she has only ever been warned away from. On the other hand, Anna was a character who I was fully prepared to hate at the start of the book, but as her story unfolded, I found I ended up pitying her. She is a complex woman who did what she thought was the best she could with the hand she was dealt.
This book is beautifully researched with wonderfully rich descriptions of the landscape and climate – it made me positively shivery reading it at times, and very glad for my bog fluffy blanket! Through Bergman’s detailed descriptions of the conditions they were kept in, it is easy to see how women would confess to being witches if it would save them from barbaric interrogation tactics and torture, or in the hope a confession would spare the lives of those they loved. The inclusion of traditional Norwegian and Samí stories add real depth to this book and really help bring the characters to life.
As you will know, I read a lot of books about witches, both fantasy and based on factual trials, and The Witches of Vardø is up there with the best that I have read. I am excited for what is to come next from the pen/keyboard of Anya Bergman.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Anya Bergman became interested in the witch trials of Vardø and the vivid folk tales of the north while living in Norway. Travelling to the Steilneset memorial, in which Louise Bourgeois and Peter Zumthor commemorated those persecuted witches, she became fascinated by their stories. Now resident in Ireland, she is currently undertaking a PhD by Published Works at Edinburgh Napier University in Scotland where she also lectures, as well as tutoring for Jericho Writers. She is working on her next novel, which unites the fates of two very different women against the tumultuous backdrop of the French Revolution.
Make sure you visit the other blogs taking part in this tour.