I was lucky enough to receive a pre-release version of "The Gisburn Witch" which is a historical fiction novel written by debut author Sarah L King.
The story is based around the events that led up to the infamous witch trials of Pendle in Lancashire, England during the early 17th Century. The specific story we follow in this book is that of Jennet Preston, a woman who was from the village of Gisburn which is in the neighbouring county of Yorkshire. Scandalised as a young woman after being accused of seducing Tom Lister, a gentleman’s son, her life is soon filled with shame and hardship. As an outcast in her own village she befriends the Device family in Blacko and is quickly embroiled in their world of folk magic, superstition, old family feuds and dangerous reputations. When fate intervenes to reunite her with Tom, Jennet risks everything for love and happiness, but when tragedy strikes Jennet finds that she is vulnerable to accusations for which she could pay the ultimate price.
My first comment on the novel is in regards to the pacing, the novel does start off relatively slowly as King attempts to introduce the reader to Jennet herself and the society she lives within. Then, as the story progresses the pace gradually increases until the final part of the novel flies by as the tension builds and the drama unfolds. I pretty much read the final quarter of the novel in one sitting as I really wanted to know how this obvious tragedy was going to unfold. Other than that, the writing was very competent and it had a decent descriptive element which really helped to bring out the obvious love felt by the author for the Lancashire countryside and climate.
In regards to the characters, I found myself quite split as there is basically nobody in this book who you could define as being a classical "good guy"; even Jennet herself acts and behaves in a manner which I didn't always like. I actually found myself moving from an initial feeling of pity for Jennet, to frustration with her, to mild anger and then back to feeling a sense of pity for her again. King has basically tried to create people with flaws and defects in an attempt at providing an element of realism within the novel which is commendable but at times it did lead to me wondering if I would end up caring about any of them by the end. Thankfully, as mentioned above, I did feel sorry again for Jennet by the end and I especially felt a sense of empathy for her husband, William who had suffered a lot throughout the novel.
Overall, I did really enjoy the book, it isn't a genre I read regularly but I think it was a well written, successful attempt at trying to bring to life a real historical tragedy with people full of their own hopes, weaknesses and flaws. If you are interested in exploring a Historical Fiction novel that takes a look at some of the lives of the common people within English 16th/17th century society rather than royalty etc. then I think you should give this book a try.
(reviewed the day of purchase)