Rosie’s Book Review Team #RBRT Crystin reviews The Black Hours by Alison Williams

Today’s book review comes from Crystin, she blogs at http://crystinlgoodwin.wordpress.com

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Crystin Chose to read and review The Black Hours by Alison Williams

The Black Hours - Alison Williams

The Black Hours – Alison Williams

Title: The Black Hours by Alison Williams

  • Genre: Historical Fiction

 

First off, I’d like to mention that this novel is very different from my typical reading preferences. This isn’t a young adult novel, nor is it fantasy. There is very little romance, and there isn’t really a happily ever after. The Black Hours is a very dark tale; written like fiction, but based on actual events that occurred in 16th century England.

The story follows two main characters – Matthew Hopkins, a documented witch hunter during the 16th century, and Alice Pendle, a fictional young woman who is suspected of witchcraft. The story goes through the process of how women were first suspected of witchcraft during those times, then goes into further detail into their trials and how the witch hunters would ‘prove’ the witches guilty.

Again, this is not a happy book. It is dark, gritty, and gruesome at times.

It was still fascinating.

The story was extremely well done – one could read the novel as fiction and it would provide everything a fiction reader would need. Suspense, action, resolution – even some much needed karmic retaliation. The hero and the villain were both fleshed out beautifully – you could see the reasoning behind both views – but the villain stayed very much a villain. (Yes, I’m being vague. I don’t want to ruin it for you.)

However, the story is also extremely depressing. It was heartbreaking to realize that the events that unfolded could have (and probably did) happen in those times. The unfairness, the inequality … I found myself getting frustrated and angry at the ignorance of many of the characters multiple times while reading. Sadly, the ignorance was real back then. There were no lie detectors, no means of sending to another town for impartial witnesses. Doctors weren’t around then, either – in fact, to claim to be a healer was one of the ways to be suspected of witchcraft. The fact that the author was able to infuse the reality of those times so authentically … it was absolutely amazing.

I would highly recommend this book for history lovers, especially old English history, or anyone interested in the details surrounding witch hunts of the middle ages.

I would NOT recommend this book for children, anyone with a weak stomach, or anyone overly sympathetic. There are detailed torture scenes, rape, extreme prejudice, fanaticism, and death. It is not for the faint of heart, but for anyone who is interested in the real events of that time period – this book is gold.

Find a copy here from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Rosie’s Book Review Team #RBRT Melissa reviews The Black Hours by Alison Williams

Today’s book review comes from review team member Melissa, she blogs at http://mllegette.com/

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Melissa chose to read and review The Black Hours by Alison Williams

The Black Hours - Alison Williams

The Black Hours – Alison Williams

Good golly. Talk about intense. I had never heard of Matthew Hopkins until reading Williams’ The Black Hours. Learning that he was in fact an actual human being was almost more than I could stand. (I was having a hard enough time when I thought he was fictional.)

The book is aptly named. Serious dark hours will be before you, reader, you have been warned. We are talking injustice piled onto injustice, served with a heaping side of (you got it) injustice.

But if you’re fascinated by history — especially Witch Trials — you will find this to be a trip back in time. It’s clear that Williams took great care in her research. The characters are vivid (I liked that both the persecuted and persecutor told their views — made it all the more horrifying), and the writing is smooth. If you’re looking for a Halloween read, check it out. You’ll certainly get chills.

Find a copy here from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Rosie’s Book review Team #RBRT Cathy reviews The Black Hours by Alison Williams

Today’s review comes from team member Cathy, she blogs at http://betweenthelinesbookblog.wordpress.com/

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Cathy chose to read and review The Black Hours by Alison Williams

The Black Hours - Alison Williams

The Black Hours – Alison Williams

Here is Cathy’s review;

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.

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 complete 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 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.

Find a copy here from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Rosie’s Book review Challenge – A review by Cindy

Today we have a review from book review challenger Cindy Harrison. Her website is http://cynthiaharrison.com/

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Cindy chose to review “The Black Hours” by Alison Williams.

The Black Hours - Alison Williams

The Black Hours – Alison Williams

Here is her review.

Although the chilling historical novel The Black Hours by Alison Williams is fiction, it is written with such detailed realism that readers will feel they are in the village of Coggeshall where the story is set. In this bucolic and tranquil place, Alice Pendle and her grandmother are midwives and herbalists with a deep affinity for helping those in need. When they come under the jealous eye of a competing midwife, Annie Everard, this woman spreads rumors about the Pendles, hoping to blacken their name and steal their business. In this, she more than succeeds.

Matthew Hopkins is an historic figure who here is known as the Witchfinder. When he comes to Coggeshall searching for witches, Annie is more than willing to point the finger at the Pendle family. With excruciating detail, Williams describes the horrors that were the witch hunts of old. Midwives were often blamed when a mother or child died, and herbalists were celebrated when they brought the ill back to health. As we now know, these early keepers of medicinal knowledge did not have the power or the wish to kill, only to heal. This is especially true of the Pendles.

                Superstitions of the times swept the lands and the horrifying portrayal of the torture and degradation suffered by Alice Pendle and her grandmother as they is put through the dishonest and shameful rigors of Hopkins’ Witchfinder ways is not easy reading. Williams is a skilled storyteller, but make no mistake, this tale is a dark one from a black chapter in human history. Williams does not shy away from the details that make it so, and for that she deserves highest praise.

                There are also moments of light, but to tell these would be to spoil the story for readers. Suffice to say, there is evil afoot in Coggeshall, and the good news is it does not entirely prevail. Williams is a writer of power and strength and deserves a wide audience for her compelling work. – Cynthia Harrison

Find a copy here from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Guest Author Alison Williams

Today our guest is local author Alison Williams, writer of yesterday’s book “The Black Hours”. Here is a link to the book review. http://wp.me/p2Eu3u-4UI

Alison Williams

1) Where is your home town?

I live in Basingstoke, in Hampshire. I moved here when I was seven, moved away at 21, and then came back twelve years ago.

2) How long have you been writing?

I have always loved writing stories. I trained as a journalist, but then worked in education after my children were born and after a brief stint as a freelance writer. When I hit forty I decided to give up work, go back to freelance writing and also started a Masters in Creative Writing. It was as part of the course that I wrote ‘The Black Hours’.

3) What key factor made you want to write “The Black Hours”?

I’ve always been extremely interested in history and, in particular, women’s history. I find it rather sad that a man like Matthew Hopkins actually existed and did the awful things that he did, but that he is not really that well-known. In fact a lot of people that have read ‘The Black Hours’ think that I made him up! He was responsible for hundreds of deaths in England yet is hardly mentioned in our history books. Consequently, I really feel his victims have largely been forgotten – all too often they are just names on a list in a book or in a museum. We tend to forget that they were real people, with real lives, families, dreams, hopes and fears. What they suffered was dreadful and I really felt compelled to give them a voice. Although ‘The Black Hours’ is fiction and Alice never existed, the methods Matthew Hopkins uses in the novel are all methods actually used on real victims. I hope, in some small way, the novel pays tribute to those real victims.

4) Can you tell the readers a bit about Matthew Hopkins?

He is certainly a man shrouded in mystery. No-one knows exactly when he was born, but it is thought to be around 1620, making him only 24 when he began his witch hunting campaign. There is no information relating to Matthew’s childhood and adolescence, although it has been variously suggested that he attended school, spent his formative years on the continent and that he trained as a lawyer.  His performances in court may give some credence to this claim, but again, there is no evidence to support the assumption.  What is known is that, along with his colleague John Sterne, he was responsible for over 200 executions of suspected witches – more in that short space of time than all the other witch hunters managed during 160 years!

5) Why do you think Hopkins was successful in gaining support for his Witch hunts?

He operated during a time when Civil war had brought great unrest to the country. In times like this people are afraid and uncertain of their future and are perhaps more likely to blame other people for their misfortunes. I think also that Hopkins used fear extremely well – if you didn’t join in with the accusations, you may well have ended up being on the receiving end of them yourself! Also, life was short and cheap and hard and bad things happened all the time. People didn’t have the knowledge to always explain why someone was ill and dying, or why crops failed or why a woman suffered miscarriage after miscarriage. It was easy, and perhaps understandable, that they looked to others to take the blame.

6) Alice’s surname was Pendle, what do you know of the stories of the Pendle Witches from Lancaster?

I chose ‘Pendle’ as Alice’s surname as a small tribute to those executed in Pendle in 1612. I recently published an article about them on my blog. The story certainly has similarities, although it happened more than thirty years before Matthew Hopkins began his witch hunts. Again,  a woman was accused of cursing someone, and, in turn and probably under extreme duress, implicated others, who then implicated more, until nine women and two  men were executed, and one woman, in her eighties, died in prison. It is a familiar pattern, seen in many of these cases both in England and in many other countries around the world.

7) Were the English Witch Trials similar to the American Salem Witch Trials?

They were similar in that a kind of mass hysteria overtook reason and in that more women than men were accused and subsequently executed. Hopkins wrote a book ‘The Discovery of Witches’ in which he outlined his methods – the following year, trials and executions for witchcraft began in the New England colonies. In one of these cases, that of Margaret Jones, Hopkins’ methods of watching and searching were used.  And some of his methods were used in the Salem Witch Trials – so the two are actually closely connected.

8) What do you think was the most shocking torture that Hopkins administered?

Torture was actually unlawful in England, so Hopkins as very careful to use methods that were not regarded as such, however shocking they may seem to us today. Sleep deprivation was one such method that caused terrible suffering. But I think that ‘pricking’ was the worst, particularly as Hopkins cheated. It was believed that witches had marks on their bodies that would not bleed. So ‘prickers’ pricked the flesh with knives and pins until they found a spot that did not bleed. Hopkins had a retractable pin made so that, of course, his victims, when ‘pricked’ with this pin would not bleed.

9) What role did wise women have in the everyday life of poor villagers?

Wise women (and sometimes men) provided a service to those who could not afford to pay for a doctor or apothecary, using herbal remedies for ailments suffered by people and livestock. Some were also midwives, as Alice and Maggie are. Although wise women were accused of witchcraft, it was also often the case that wise women or other midwives were those that did the accusing – I wanted to show this through the role of Annie Everard.

10) I know you enjoy writing about the everyday lives of people in times gone by, what are you working on next?

Since publishing ‘The Black Hours’ I have had a lot of requests from readers wanting to know the story behind Maggie. So I have written a prequel to ‘The Black Hours’ called ‘Blackwater’, a novella that will be available as an eBook in March. I am also working on my next full length novel, ‘Remember, Remember’. I was researching an article and came across some interesting information about Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot. There was one source (and only one) that suggested Guy Fawkes may have had a wife. This got me thinking – what would it have been like to be married to a man willing to give up everything for his beliefs? If he was married, then his wife was a woman caught up in events she couldn’t control – something that interests me immensely. So ‘Remember, Remember’ imagines the plot from her point of view. I’m hoping to release the novel in November!

The Black Hours

Find a copy here on Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Thank you Alison and Good luck with your next books. I am currently reading Blackwater and a review will appear on the blog in May.

The Black Hours by Alison Williams

The Black HoursThe Black Hours by Alison Williams

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Black Hours is a book that thinks about the actual lives of ordinary people who are mixed up in a period of history that is well publicised. Set in England around 1647, a time of Civil War and strong religious times. This book looks at the famous Witch Trials.

The author has interpreted some of the documented names and facts into a thoughtful story about the horrors of the period. We meet Alice Pendle and her Grandmother Maggie, wise women of Coggeshall who have used herbs and ointments to help and heal the villagers for years. When their midwifery skills result in the unfortunate death of a mother and child, people start to whisper.

Religious fears have been stirred up in the country and Matthew Hopkins believes he has a duty to God. He must rid the earth of evil in the form of Witches. With the law behind him Matthew arrives in Coggeshall and finds a supportive Minister and Lord of the Manor. Villagers are encouraged to sign witness statements condemning Alice and Maggie.

What follows is a horrific tale of their trials and suffering at the hands of Matthew and his supporters. This tale depicts the suffering of just 2 lives. During the actual period of history in question it is believed that between 200 and 300 women were similarly accused and tried. It was a terrible time and an example of how people are easily led and manipulated by their fears.

This is a well written glimpse in to the window of history.

Find a copy here on Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

View all my reviews on Goodreads.

Alison will be our guest author on the blog tomorrow, do come back and read more about her.