The Coven’s Daughter – Lucy Jago

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Lucy Jago is a British writer of nonfiction and historical fiction. The Coven’s Daughter was apparently published first in England with the unsexy title Montacute House but the cover was tarted up a bit for the American audience with a new title and a sexy illustration. The Coven’s Daughter is more appealing and does capture something of what the book is about.

Cess Perryn is thirteen (so this is a YA book, although it reads well enough for a wider audience) on the day she finds a heavy gold locket in the hen house. She is the poultry girl for Montacute estate, a smelly but welcome job for a peasant who needs every penny to help keep her mother and herself fed. The locket holds a portrait of a grand lady and Cess slips it on and keeps it, although at times it seems to burn her skin. Almost immediately bad things start to happen—the blackened and scraped body of a boy is discovered; outspoken Cess challenges the lord’s imperious son; her friend William goes missing and it turns out a number of boys have disappeared from the surrounding area.

It’s 1596 and word spreads quickly that the disappearances may be witchcraft. Then Cess is accused of being a witch. She is a reluctant but tough and resourceful heroine who concocts a plan to find the missing William and discover what is happening. Her efforts are complicated by her precarious position. Cess and her mother are village outcasts, forced to live at the edge of the forest, impoverished because there is no steady work for them and family ties were severed by some event that happened before Cess was born. The fact that no one will tell her who her father is leaves her more vulnerable and a dark political plot begins to weave tendrils around the estate, the village, and Cess and her friends.

A book with “coven” in the title will obviously include more than a passing reference to witches and Cess is caught up in the healing and magickal world of her friend and mentor, a witch who reveals herself to Cess and importunes her to join the coven for her own safety. Several surprising characters have the gift of sight and strong intuitions drive some of the action. Jago creates a believable Elizabethan world full of colors, textures, smells, sounds and superstitions. The intrigues are Shakespearean; the secrets are deadly; the architecture is imposing, laced with hidden passages; the main characters are real enough; and the resolution is classic. The Coven’s Daughter isn’t “thriller-scary” but it holds your attention. I pulled it off the shelf because of the title so the “Americanization” seems to have been successful marketing.

It was a relief to find a small gem to offset the truly painfully written mysteries I was looking forward to escaping into until I opened them. Two perfectly promising murder mysteries set in a Maine fishing village with a retired Miami homicide detective as the amateur sleuth. Dreadful. Just really really awful writing. Could not finish even one. How do books like that find agents, publishers and print runs? They are already back at the library. Jago’s book, with its graceful prose, I would recommend.

The Coven’s Daughter   Lucy Jago | Disney-Hyperion  2010

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