There’s something about historical fiction that seems to engage me. Here, we’re in 1577 with a political war upon us. Queen Elizabeth I is in power and Mary Queen of Scots is imprisoned. Witch Hunters exist, with women burned at the stake for their apparent witchcraft. England is in the middle of a battle between these rival queens, and in the midst of it is our protagonist: Alyce Greenliefe.
As I mentioned before, historical fiction intrigues me. Even though we know what has happened in history, reading someone’s creative take is always fascinating. In this, Bowling takes an interesting turn by focussing on the supernatural side. What if witches did exist? What if witches played a big part in the political war between Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots? Dark and fascinating, Witchborn gives us a different perspective on this time in history.
At the very beginning, we are given a clear indication on the premise of this story: witches. I mean, it is in the title, but it shows us that witches, in this creative take of history, did actually exist. Alyce’s mother burns at the stake, being found to wield the magical craft, and although Alyce is able to escape, she finds herself locked up in the historically notorious Bedlam asylum.
Through sheer chance and desperation, Alyce is able to get out of there. With shaven head and no food or clean clothes, she runs through the streets of London, finds a place to rest, and wakes to the commotion of life within London’s walls. She meets a boy—Solomon—who is able to find her a roof over her head and food, and soon they are tangled together in the queens' political warfare.
Then, there’s the Witch Finder (or Witch Hunter, take your pick), Hopkins, and his unbelievably frightening counterpart, Master Caxton. He is persistent, dedicated to his job, and ready to do whatever it takes to get Alyce in his grasp. Like in most stories with a villain seeking to capture the protagonist, there are some close calls and comedic failures. Ultimately, we wonder who it is he is working for, and when we discover who that person is, we start to notice how deep these conspiracies are.
This story is dark. It twists England’s society during this time to be suspicious, on edge and, at times, desperate for survival. However, I’ll admit, there were opportunities in this book to really grip and excite the reader which were not taken. I loved the placement of the characters, the setting and the premise of the story. Historical fiction, particularly taking something as political as this and merging it with supernatural aspects, can be absolutely brilliant and make conspiracy theorists believe it could actually have happened. At times, I feel like it didn’t meet that level.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved its premise and there were times I felt that excitement start to tremble within me. When intense scenes, such as Alyce being on the run, were being described, I started to really get into the story. But I still had this continuous feeling that there were great moments missed that could have made the plot even more intense or engaging.
Since this is also a young adult story, there were stereotypical bits of character development that I felt were a little bit forced at times. However, I think the characters fit the story and I enjoyed their personalities. Both Alyce and Solomon brought comic relief and some great sarcasm at times, and some of Alyce’s thoughts and observations throughout the story are very relatable in their situations.
Altogether, I would say this book is enjoyable. I also would say that the ending had me very keen to know whether or not there will be more to this. So, even though there were some parts which could have been better, I’m still very keen to know what happens next! It’s amazing what a well done plot twist can do to a story.
If you’re someone interested in the young adult, historical fiction or supernatural genres (or all three combined), then you will probably feel the same bit of enjoyment that I did. I’d recommend people give it a go since, as mentioned previously, there are parts to this story that are very well done. The setting, premise and ending, for me, were well thought out and might have you feeling like I do—wanting to know what’s going to happen next or if there will be another instalment!
Have you read Witchborn by Nicholas Bowling? What did you think? What were your favourite bits (no spoilers!)? What are your thoughts on young adult, supernatural or historical fiction? Let me know in the comments!
That’s it from me. Remember to ignite the story and I’ll see you again soon!
Charlotte is a reading and writing lover who has completed a creative writing intensive course at the University of Oxford and is a current university student studying a double degree in journalism and creative writing. If you are curious to learn more, check out the 'About' page.