The Dark Side - Superstition, Myths and Witch hunts
A while ago my Reading Group read The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave. I was surprised at how much the group liked it as it is a very dark tale based in a remote Norwegian island called Vardo in the early 1600’s. After a severe storm at sea when all the islands men were killed while out on fishing boats, the women of the island are left bereft and unprotected. They organise themselves together to fish and fend for themselves, something which is seen as rebellious behaviour amongst the Norwegian society on the mainland at the time. According to them women belong in the home, married, bearing children and obeying their husband’s wishes and commands. This island of self-sufficient women poses a threat to the status quo and the powers-that-be send in a new over seer, a man who comes straight from a recent witch hunt and trial in Scotland. Absalom Cornet sees evil in every corner and is determined to wipe it out starting his own witch hunt on Vardo to root out the evil. The writing is spell binding and atmospheric and the knowledge that this is based on an historical event adds extra pathos to the tale.
Kiran Millwood Hargrave titles on BorrowBox - eBook and eAudiobooks
The Dance Tree is the new novel also by this author and is equally enthralling. Based in Strasbourg in the hot summer of 1518 a woman begins to dance in the city square and is soon joined by hundreds of others in a phenomenon that became the so called ‘dancing plague’- as if in a trance the women dance till they drop with exhaustion. The authorities fight for control over this emergency claiming that the women have been taken over by the devil. The story focuses on the effect on one family – Lisbet is determined to get to the bottom of her own families skeletons as the ground vibrates to the beat of a million feet dancing in the stifling heat. This story is heart wrenching and compelling and even more so as it is also based on a true story. This tale of hysteria, superstition and family secrets combined with sensitive writing lends itself to another great read.
The Dance Tree by Kiran Millwood Hargrave - eBook available on Libby
On a similar vein, though less hysterical, Sarah Perry’s Essex Serpent is a dark tale based in 1890’s Colchester – Cora’s husband has died leaving her with a young son and she moves to the Essex countryside close to a marshy estuary which is said to be inhabited by the mythical Essex Serpent. Cora is an amateur naturalist and is intrigued by the myth but determined to get to the bottom of the rumours. The local vicar William Ransome is also fighting against the power of superstition amongst his parishoners convinced that it is a reaction against faith and religion. This is a gentler, more paced novel with a welcome undercurrent of love and passion that comes up through the dark foreboding landscape of the Essex countryside.