Tag Archives: Witchcraft

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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A Discovery of Witches — Deborah Harkness

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A Discovery of Witches was sitting in a display stand on the library desk when I dropped off some books so I snagged it. I love historical tales about witches and Deborah Harkness is a professor of history so I settled in for a good long read. I came close to giving up about a quarter of the way in because the witchcraft was pretty thin, the heartthrobs were pretty thick and the male lead turned out almost immediately to be a vampire. Twilight for grown-ups. No thanks. Muttering through the original had been bad enough.

But I persisted because I have to read one book a day and I’d already had this running start. And it got better—but only a little. There is plenty of history sprinkled throughout the text and any one of the threads would be fascinating to unravel but what dominates in this book is the love story. I am so not a fan of interspecies vampire love stories. Puh-leez, what is the romance about a classic abusive boyfriend set-up in which the besotted undead wouldn’t dream of harming his lady love—except for this teeny little problem he has with his appetites and his teeth?

OK, maybe not fair. Romance aficionados will find this a rich romp through a lot of material that never strays too far from the love story and the travails of the passionate but chaste couple and the somewhat heavy-handed argument for mixed species marriage. The heroine, Diana Bishop, is a scholar spending the summer in Oxford doing historical research at the Bodleian Library. She is also an uncommonly powerful witch who, due to the trauma of her parents’ untimely deaths when she was seven, refuses to use or even acknowledge her powers. When she stumbles across an ancient alchemical text that seems to be alive with mysterious spells, she triggers a witch hunt with herself at the center of it.

Diana runs a lot along the paths at Oxford and she goes rowing in the river solo at odd hours in foggy, deserted landscapes. Very tough cookie in the first half of the novel. Encounters sequential near-death experiences throughout most of the second half when she and the handsome, wealthy, accomplished, urbane, oenophile, ice-cold vampire, who stalks and then seduces her, take on the fearsome and murderous bigots of the magical world.

Matthew Clairmont, charming and cultivated uber-carnivore, has been a kind of very bright Forest Gump throughout most of Western European history and owns the tchotchkes from famous figures to prove it. His taste is exquisite and his fortune formidable. He is a distinguished Oxford fellow and a medical researcher of some renown who attends a weekly yoga class at his country estate that has all the groovy vibes of California, although the yogis are daemons and vampires.

All the creatures—there seem to be few actual humans in this story—have hypersensitive olfactory capabilities and spend a fair amount of time sniffing, describing various scents and explaining how that relays valuable information to them about enemies, threats and love interests. Many of the non-human cast want to get their hands on the mystery book, which has vanished as inexplicably as it appeared.

I read the whole novel. It wasn’t bad. I would rather have been reading a thriller with a good historical subplot that was less a hodge-podge of vampire-witchy heavy breathing salted with historical factoids. But, if you like romances that exist for their own sake and enjoy an encyclopedic knowledge of history as a bonus, go for it. If you’re a witch, you’d probably prefer Brunonia Barry’s The Lace Reader—funny, wacky, creepy, full of contemporary Salem witches and not a vampire in sight.

A Discovery of Witches: A Novel   Deborah Harkness | Viking 2011