The Witching Hour by Elizabeth Laird
|The Witching Hour by Elizabeth Laird|
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy|
|Summary: Beautifully written story about the witch hunts of the 1700s and the persecution of the Covenanters in Scotland. It's tense and exciting, and marked by Laird's trademark humanity. Maggie is my favourite female central character since Kevin Crossley-Holland's Gatty. Elizabeth Laird was kind enough to be interviewed by Bookbag.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 432||Date: May 2009|
Maggie spends a poor crofter's life, scavenging for food on the beach and wishing that her parents were still alive and she didn't have to live with her harsh and embittered granny. She tries to keep a low profile and much of her time is spent avoiding confrontation. When her grandmother is accused of witchcraft, Maggie ends up beside her in the dock, betrayed by the false witness of a neighbour. Sentenced to hanging, she flees her Scottish island and escapes to the mainland and the protection of her uncle. But her safe haven doesn't stay safe for very long. Uncle Blair is a Covenanter, a religious refusenik of those days, and the King's men are ruthlessly crushing the challenge to his authority as head of the Church in Scotland.
Ultimately, Maggie knows, the responsibility for protecting the family rests with her. But does she have the courage?
I'll be frank with you: I'm an Elizabeth Laird fangirl. In my eyes she can do no wrong. I think she creates the most wonderful characters and has a democratic way of writing that is accessible to all but never simple. I think her books have the perfect blend of issues and plot; one never trumps the other. And whatever the point she is making, I always agree with it. So you won't find a word of criticism in this review and you are just going to have to take my word for it when I tell you that she's excelled herself this time.
I loved this book. Believe me. Buy it. Ok?
Really, really, really: I loved it. I loved the preface, where Laird explains the rough and violent environment for many in Scotland in the seventeenth century and where she talks about two of her own ancestors, each of whom were caught up in one or other of the two main themes of The Witching Hour. I loved the first part of the book, which deals mostly with the fever of witch-hunting that existed at the time. I loved the second part, which talks about the horrible persecution of the Covenanters. I loved the vivid descriptions of landscape and the host of supporting characters, especially the piper Tam, who, in typical Laird style, is morally ambiguous; a goody with faults.
But most of all I loved Maggie, who is my favourite female character since Kevin Crossley-Holland's Gatty. She's the traditional reluctant heroine, forced into courage and resourcefulness by pain, tragedy and grief. But what a heroine she is. I won't spoil it for you, but there's a Scarlett O'Hara and the red earth of Tara moment at the end of the book and I genuinely couldn't read it for the tears.
It's an epic adventure, given teeth by historical accuracy and Laird's trademark humanity. I really couldn't recommend it highly enough.
My thanks to the nice people at Macmillan for sending the book.
They might also enjoy The Highwayman's Footsteps by Nicola Morgan, which is based on Alfred Noyes's famous poem. The sequel, The Highwayman's Curse, also talks about the Covenanters. Slightly younger children might enjoy reading about Scotland in history in The Last Wolf by Michael Morpurgo.
Elizabeth Laird was kind enough to be interviewed by Bookbag.
Like to comment on this review?
Just send us an email and we'll put the best up on the site.