I find it very difficult to write a review for a sequel, because I don’t like to give anything away for people who still haven’t read the previous book in the series. To get around this problem today I have a cunning plan…
I went to look back at my review of Witchstruck, the first in Victoria Lamb’s excellent YA Tudor series, and I realised I wrote it before I started this blog. This seemed a bit of a shame as I loved the story, so I’ve decided to post that review here first. Here it is:
I like stories about witches.
I love stories about the Tudors.
How about a story that combines the two, and including my favourite Tudor of them all, Elizabeth? Well, it’s bound to please. Witchstruck is a very enjoyable combination of history and the supernatural. Meg is a witch. Not just a wise woman who knows a bit about herbal remedies, but a witch with proper arcane powers. I liked this about the book, there’s no hedging about whether witchcraft is or isn’t real, in this story it’s real and that’s that. Her Aunt Jane, a powerful witch herself, has trained Meg; her mother is dead, but also had witchcraft in her blood. The Princess Elizabeth, in whose household she works, calls Meg’s unusual gifts into service. They are lodged at Woodstock, where Elizabeth is imprisoned by Queen Mary under suspicion for treason. Both Elizabeth and Meg put themselves in danger with the rituals they enact to try and divine the future.
Not only must they conceal themselves from the household, paid to spy on their every word and deed, there is also a witch-finder nearby. Marcus Dent has his eye on Meg. Not that he suspects her for a witch, no it’s much worse than that. He wants to make her his wife, by force if necessary. He is a repulsive character; if you ever get the chance to read about the real-life witch-finder Matthew Hopkins I urge you to, I think Marcus must be based at least in part on him. Marcus is vicious and ruthless; Meg clearly cannot marry him but refusing him has its own dangers.
Meg’s father and brother are also up to their necks in trouble. They are involved in stirring up Protestant rebellion, to replace Mary with Elizabeth upon the throne. Unfortunately, their plotting implicates Meg putting her and the princess in more danger still. So, Meg’s caught between a whole heap of intrigues, conspiracies and loyalties. Of course, what she now needs is a gorgeous not-quite-yet priest, Alejandro, to set her heart fluttering. She fears him as he seems to understand her abilities, and witchcraft is just as frowned upon by Catholic priests as self-appointed witch-finders. She is also drawn towards him; attraction sparks between them with an intensity that troubles them both.
This is no cosy tale. Meg’s power buzzes and stings, her influence swirls captivatingly around. Her meeting with that old necromancer Dr Dee is fascinating. He sees her potential strength immediately, and I wonder if we’ll see more meetings between them in the next book in the series. She will need all her resources to face the dangers ahead, and with her life at stake Meg will discover just how much of her is truly witch. Witchstruck is exciting, nerve-jangling and well worth a read.
I think it is obvious just how much I enjoyed the first book, and I am happy to report that I also loved Witchfall. Anyone who doesn’t want to know what happened next, please look away NOW!
Witchfall opens at Hampton Court during the Spring of 1555. Queen Mary is near her time with what ought to be the heir to her throne, and she’s keeping Elizabeth and attendants close. Mary’s husband Philip of Spain is at court, and unfortunately where he goes his inquisitors go too. It is not an auspicious time to be, or even be suspected to be, a witch.
Meg is not finding it easy to keep a low life profile unfortunately. The Princess Elizabeth is as keen as ever to know her future, and whether it involves a crown upon her head rather than an axe at her neck. The Inquisition is showing an unhealthy amount of interest in the Princess and her staff though, especially as they have Dr Dee locked up for questioning. Elizabeth is terrified that Dee will crack under torture and reveal something of their clandestine meetings so she sends Meg to visit him in secret.
I was hoping for more interaction between Meg and Dee and I certainly got it in this book. Her powers explode in his presence and her abilities are far greater than she ever thought. Meg is more than a witch; she is quite possibly a sorcerer. Obviously this doesn’t make her life any easier; on the contrary she is more danger than before. The priests want to torture confessions of witchcraft from her, the Princess wants conjuring tricks, and Dee and his apprentice want to use her abilities too. Alejandro ‘just’ wants her to say yes to his proposal!
As if Meg isn’t already pulled in too many contrary directions and placed in peril on an almost daily basis there is also a sinister rat lurking around. It crosses Meg’s mind that Marcus Dent could still make a comeback from wherever she flung him; a suspicion that grows stronger once she finds out more of his past. There’s also a malevolent black form roaming the palace - Meg is under more pressure than ever before. She has a horrible time in this book actually, only briefly lightened by Alejandro’s touch. And even then, she still suffers from a bucketful of guilt over their relationship. Poor Meg.
Witchfall is very exciting, tense, and full of dark menacing forces. Meg’s torments are almost unendurable and she needs all her strength to negotiate the myriad pitfalls in her path. A new character is introduced, the apprentice Richard, who I had my doubts about at times – I mean his intentions and loyalties. Kat Ashley, Elizabeth’s beloved companion, makes a fateful appearance at the end of the book too. She is most definitely in my bad books! I can’t wait for book three and, I hope, a little happiness for Meg.
Witchfall is available now in Paperback. My thanks to the publisher for sending a copy to me.