Friday, 11 December 2009

The Merrybegot

It is Spring 1645 and the first English Civil War is drawing to its inevitable close. King Charles I holds onto his freedom by a thread with his loyalist supporters holding only small pockets of the Midlands & North Wales with his son (Charles II to be) hiding out in the West Country (Cornwall). Matthew Hopkins, self-styled Witch-finder General plies his lucrative and deadly business stirring the countryside to find and nail any suspected of using the Dark Arts. Against this historical backdrop Julie Hearn tells her story of the Merrybegot (a child conceived on Beltane morning who has a special affinity to nature and the healing arts or to some - a witch). The countryside is alive with Piskies and Fairies though you might never see one. The book could be described as a fanciful precursor to the Salem Witch Trials that occurred in New England half a century later. Although I don't rate this one as being as good as Hearn's debut book (Follow Me Down) or Rowan the Strange, I did think it was a very enjoyable read, with pleasing characterisations - some feat considering that one of the characters I ended up caring so much for is a rather foolish chicken. The story is told primarily from our young Nell's point of view with a more retrospective and untrustworthy alternative supplied by the eventual confessions of Patience Madden - one of a pair of sisters who accuse Nell of ill wishing them. The author also does a great job weaving some fascinating folklore and real herbcraft into the narrative.

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