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3.9 out of 5
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  • A top historical novel

    It’s 1570, 12 years into the rain of Queen Elisabeth 1. It is an era where superstition still reigns very strong as well in the cities but even more so in the countryside where priests are often the only people able to read and write. Even the better-educated people are not immune to those old unchristian beliefs. Protestantism is widely accepted and young people don’t know or remember ‘the old faith’. Those hanging on to the catholic faith are seen as papist traitors who are conspiring against the queen. 16-year-old Martha is the only daughter of a wheelwright in the small English village Marcle Ridge. Her dad taught her to read and write and her grandmother taught her everything about herbal remedies and plant wisdom she knew herself. On top of that, they have the favour of the hall and live in a ‘nice’ and a rather spacious cottage (compared to that of other neighbours) much to the envy of some villagers who say that it’s too big for just 1 man and his daughter. Miss Elisabeth, the squire’s daughter is a very religious person and beliefs that no soul should remain without salvation and that people should be able to read the Bible. She asks Martha to be a teacher to the village boys and teach them how to read. Lessons are attended when their fathers can spare them not to work on the land. Some people still think that letters are magic and can be used as a curse when written down. It’s a very bad autumn and winter with rain almost every day. When a small earthquake causes a hole in the road, the villagers think it’s made by a devil. The priest tells them it’s a sign of Gods dissatisfaction with the sinning in the village. The hill near the village starts making strange noises as well. But as it goes, people get used to it and ignore this phenomenon. Or they say that there’s a dragon sleeping in the hill and that its stomach makes those rumbling noises. And it keeps raining. You know there’s a disaster in the making. As gossip and jealousy grow in the village combined with natural disasters and accidents, you feel everything is building up to the point where Martha is publicly accused of being a witch. Despite having done nothing wrong, with her unusual learning and herbal remedies she’s an outsider in the village. And in a time of fear, it’s always easiest to look for scapegoats in those not conforming to the standards. I loved this story, set in an age and environment about which I knew very little. The writer does very well in recreating the feel of this period. Even her language is adapted to the time. Of course, if this would be written in Elizabethan English we would have a very hard time reading the prose, but she does a great job. If you’re not a native English speaker, you might have to look up certain words but usually, the context explains the meaning. There are very beautiful evocative descriptions of the countryside, village, the great hall, and the festivities on certain occasions. It’s very interesting to read about the customs and habitual traditions of our forebears that now are most often forgotten. I.e. the pre-Victorian Christmas traditions or plough-day, a feast I’ve never heard of albeit several spring celebrations live on today in rural communities. The relations between the various families in the village and their behaviour towards each other and towards the girl are very skilfully painted. You really feel the danger creeping up on the girl, who naively is long time unaware of the tension around her. Certainly, the lecherous father Paul and the widow Spicer and her sister come to life before your eyes. Unfortunately, the book ends in a cliff hanger. Things seem to look a bit better for the heroine, but there’s no conclusion or real ending. I do hope this is the first book in a larger series because Martha’s story is far from over. So, Mrs Porter, if you read this: please give us a sequel! I thank NetGalley and Boldwood Books for their free copy of this book. This is my honest, unbiased review of it.

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  • Great book!

    What wonderful writing and such a great job transporting us back in time!

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  • A great read

    It was the sort of book that you could not put down, waiting to see what would happen next and routing for the heroine

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  • Horrible

    I did not enjoy this book. It was not a very good story and it didn’t have much substance to it

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    0 of 1 people found this review helpful

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