This story interweaves three narratives, linked by Witchwood Hollow, but separated by hundreds of years: in the modern day, Honoria, recently moved to the rural town of Arnn after the death of her parents, is dared to see how deep she can run into the Hollow; in the 1800’s, Albertine, following her father from England to America, is met with dire warnings about travelling near the Hollow; and in the 1600’s, Lady Clifford, part of a group of settlers, flees accusations her herb lore is witchcraft. Each of them is sure the gossip of their peers is false; but will the truth serve them better?
Telling two stories set in different times without either losing the sense of connection or having one steal the tension from the other takes skill; so taking on three is ambitious. Fortunately, Elizabeth is up to the challenge. Rather than limit the reader to what the characters know, she intermixes choices that characters consider significant with choices that only seem critical in light of the reader’s knowledge of past or future events. This combination of knowing certain things must happen with not yet knowing the nuances both draws the three periods together and creates a fourth narrative: that of the reader’s experience.
However, the balance is not perfect. While the three women’s tales weave through each other naturally as connections and perspectives become clearer, they start as separate tales; as the first appearances of Albertine and Lady Clifford are each noticeably longer than Honoria’s, reader’s might find the expected continuation of Honoria’s story is withheld longer than necessary.
Elizabeth’s handling of the wider connections and differences between the three times is as skilled as that of the specific narratives. Each period contains a distinct sense of place and culture without being burdened with historical details for the sake of it or losing the commonalities that let readers sympathise.
This understanding of humanity is especially evident in the transition of certain belief in a specific evil, through more general folklore of an area, to spooky legends told by the young but not adults. Combined with the evidence presented to the reader that magic is possible, this exposure of all testimony as a flawed image of a truth allows the reader to seek answers alongside the characters without forcing objective rules of the world upon them.
The three protagonists are each clearly products of their time, limited not by objective weakness but by the social structures around them. And yet, beneath the distinct and plausible challenges of three very different periods of Western history, they are also all a young woman severed from her family by events beyond their control: Honoria by terrorism; Albertine by economics; and Lady Clifford by religion.
As might be expected of a story with three nuanced protagonists in separate times, the supporting cast receive less page time than in other novels of this length; however, Elizabeth does not fall back on convenient stereotypes to speed the reader’s identification. While there are supporting characters that readers are likely to wish for more of, it is more due to the sense they have a rich life beyond the book than the sense that they do not.
Ultimately, this novel is built on uncertainty; even the ending could be interpreted in more than one way. So readers are likely to enjoy it or not based on their preference for clear answers.
Overall, I enjoyed this book greatly; although the strong thread of uncovering better evidence that runs through it make it a book I am unlikely to re-read soon now I know the ending. I recommend it to fantasy readers who enjoy comparing possibilities and considering alternatives in addition to more extravagant magic.
I received a free copy from the author in exchange for a fair review.