Author: Alison Williams
Published: October 2013 by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Category: Historical Fiction, Suspense, Horror
'‘Look upon this wretch, all of you! Look upon her and thank God for his love and his mercy. Thank God that he has sent me to rid the world of such filth as this.’ 1647 and England is in the grip of civil war. In the ensuing chaos, fear and suspicion are rife and anyone on the fringes of society can find themselves under suspicion. Matthew Hopkins, self-styled Witchfinder General, scours the countryside, seeking out those he believes to be in league with the Devil. In the small village of Coggeshall, 17–year-old Alice Pendle finds herself at the centre of gossip and speculation. Will she survive when the Witchfinder himself is summoned? A tale of persecution, superstition, hate and love, ‘The Black Hours’ mixes fact with fiction in a gripping fast-paced drama that follows the story of Alice as she is thrown into a world of fear and confusion, and of Matthew, a man driven by his beliefs to commit dreadful acts in the name of religion.'
Having been born and brought up in Lancashire, the home of the Witches of Pendle, this book was of particular interest. Never thinking much of it as children, apart from trips to Pendle Hill and as something with which to scare each other, it was only as an adult the atrocities, the true horror and suffering were realised.
There has obviously been an enormous amount of research gone into this story and to have the narrative from the Witchfinder’s point of view as well as Alice Pendle’s makes for an even bigger impact. Added to that the fact that Matthew Hopkins is not a fictional character but was indeed a Witchfinder General, although this seems to have been self bestowed title, and believed to be responsible for the deaths of around three hundred women during the span of two years.
Alice pulled her cloak tightly around her as she pushed her way through the crowds. The gruesome shadow of the gallows loomed ahead, five rope nooses creaking in the bitter wind that whipped through Halstead’s bustling square. She wanted only to escape these people who knocked against her, surrounding her with their noise and smells. It had been a hard two days walk from Coggeshall in the biting cold and she was looking forward to the warmth and refreshment she would no doubt receive in Hannah’s home.
Hopkins, believing himself to be doing God’s work and regardless of how he acquires ‘confessions’ from terrified, tortured, persecuted and often elderly women, is arrogant and condescending of those he considers beneath him. Reading from his point of view was quite unsettling because he is clearly deluded and totally self-absorbed, slyly influencing the superstitious, sometimes spiteful and misguided village people who need someone to blame for all that is lacking in their lives. He arouses only feelings of horror and incredulity at his actions and egotism. It’s a very powerful reminder of the prejudice and tyranny prevalent through the ages.
The mood and feelings of the time are captured perfectly. The small village of Coggeshall, where seventeen year old Alice Pendle lives with her grandmother Maggie, and it’s residents are described in fascinating detail, giving a comprehensive picture of life in the year 1647. A time when having skills in natural healing with herbs and plants could be misconstrued and used as justification for the charge of being in league with the devil.
Alice, in complete contrast to Hopkins, evokes total sympathy, compassion and warmth. Her story is a living nightmare, chilling in the extreme, given these events occurred with regularity. Women can be, and are, accused of witchcraft for all sorts of preposterous reasons. If the unfortunate person has animals, a scar, a birthmark or forages for plants and herbs, as Alice and her grandmother do. Despite helping their neighbours when in need, they are denounced at the first opportunity. The methods used to ‘prove’ such claims are barbaric and illogical and quite often manipulated.
Despite the terrible ordeal and anguish she suffers, Alice still manages to grow in strength of character and regain her self-respect.
This is an extremely well written, very thought-provoking and authentic story of people involved in an appalling and menacing situation. I’m very much looking forward to Alison Williams’ next book.
Disclaimer: I received a copy from the author for review purposes