This was very gratefully received from publishers Headline via NetGalley.
Set against the backdrop of the Peasants Revolt, The Vanishing Witch is an intriguing story of characters in the wool trade in Lincoln. The main focus is on Robert of Bassingham, a wealthy merchant who is drawn to an attractive widow and her little daughter. The household servants and his own troublesome son do not trust her, especially when his wife becomes gravely ill. It also seems like he is being followed by a strange looking Friar who wants to deliver him a chilling message. Elsewhere, an honest boatman is struggling to support his family as the rent goes up and the Poll Tax is introduced, not helped by the fact that others on the river are not so scrupulous. And all the while there are hints of ghosts and witchcraft.
This is a readable piece of historical fiction with enough suspense and mystery to keep you turning the pages until the end, although a couple of the ‘twists’ were a little predictable. I liked how each chapter started with a snippet of a legend or old wives tale about magic and witches which, according to the Author’s Note at the end, were found in contemporary documents. I quite liked the shifting narrative voices although I did find it confusing and irritating that (slight spoiler alert!) Widow Catlin’s narration turns out to be rather unreliable in parts. Readers who are, like me, not really into ‘fantasy’ novels should not be put off by the references to witches in the title and blurb as this is not a major aspect of the story, although you do need to suspend your disbelief somewhat in parts, especially as some chapters are narrated by a ghost! I particularly enjoyed the chapters on the Peasants Revolt which were tied into the main story quite well. I was also glad of the extensive glossary and historical notes at the end which put the novel into context and showed how the plot was set against real events.
Having read a few things that left me a bit cold recently, I’ll be generous and give this…