When it is no longer safe to be a witch, they call themselves cunning.
1620s Lancashire. Away from the village lies a small hamlet, abandoned since the Plague, where only one family dwells amongst its ruins. Young Sarah Haworth, her mother, brother and little sister Annie are a family of outcasts by day and the recipients of visitors by night. They are cunning folk: the villagers will always need them, quick with a healing balm or more, should the need arise. They can keep secrets too, because no one would believe them anyway.
When Sarah spies a young man taming a wild horse, she risks being caught to watch him calm the animal. And when Daniel sees Sarah he does not just see a strange, dirty thing, he sees her for who she really is: a strong creature about to come into her own. But can something as fragile as love blossom between these two in such a place as this?
When a new magistrate arrives to investigate the strange ends that keep befalling the villagers, he has his eye on one family alone. And a torch in his hand.
Cunning Women is the powerful reckoning of a young woman with her wildness, a heartbreaking tale of young love and a shattering story of the intolerance that reigned during the long shadow of the Pendle Witch Trials, when those who did not conform found persecution at every door.
Sarah Haworth lives with her mother, brother and sister in the old plague hamlet. A few kindly folk call them cunning, for their knowledge of the land and its natural remedies. But there are those near who call them by another name: witches. They who banished them from the community and look on them now with only fear and fury.
Sarah knows the future that awaits her. No coin, no food and sharp words thrown at her like knives to cut and condemn. Sarah is torn between hoping for a normal life, and letting her true nature reign. But she also has to protect her little sister, sweet young Annie, whose innocence is stripped away a little more each day. Then Sarah comes across a boy in the woods, who tames a horse, not with whips and fists, but kindly words, and she is drawn to him, his light.
Daniel is the son of a farmer. He is quiet, always the quietest one in the room. Then he meets Sarah and he does not see a witch, he sees a wild girl with a storm in her eyes. And suddenly he is brave, courageous, with fire in his bones. It’s a fire for Sarah. And no one will put it out.
But Daniel and Sarah’s love is a fragile thing. They are worlds apart. And the local folk, fury and fear inside them, will never let them know peace.
The relationship between Daniel and Sarah is very powerful, I found it heartbreaking, haunting, beautiful and moving all at once. I also loved the bond between siblings, Sarah and little Annie. It touched me deeply. Packed full of emotion, and with a twist at the end that will have you sitting on the edge of your seat, this is a truly wonderful book. I couldn’t read fast enough.
The author has conjured a glorious, delicious tale of love, loyalty and family. The prose is perfection, authentically and effortlessly portraying a community stewing in suspicion and accusation. I adored the author’s musical voice, and her rich characters, who held me fast to the pages. You can see how much research has been poured into this book: the language, customs, culture of this era, the Pendle Witch Trials, which casts a dense shadow over the Haworth family. The author has painted a rich and masterful portrait of a very dark time.
I loved Cunning Women. It is SO SO beautifully written, with an emotional acuity which is just breath-taking. Raw, moving, tender. It is phenomenal. One of the best historical fiction books I’ve read.
Happy Publication Day to Elizabeth Lee!
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About the Author
Elizabeth Lee won the Curtis Brown Creative Marian Keyes Scholarship, and her work has been selected for the Womentoring Project and Penguin’s WriteNow Live. She lives in Warwickshire.
“I was born in London but grew up in a tiny village, where I spent most of the time with my nose in a book – anything from Enid Blyton to Shakespeare, I would read it all! I now live in Warwickshire with my teenage children, and haven’t lost my love of books.
I’ve been writing for a number of years and my work has been selected for the Womentoring Project and Penguin’s WriteNow Live. In 2018 I was awarded the Marian Keyes Scholarship to study on Curtis Brown Creative’s novel writing course, an incredible opportunity that I will always be grateful for.
Cunning Women is my debut novel, written between working two jobs and parenting two teens. Set in 17th Century Lancashire, it is the story of Sarah, her struggle against poverty and prejudice, and her defiant hope for a better life.
I would love to connect with readers, so please do find me on Twitter @EKLeeWriter. Hope to see you there!” —- taken from Elizabeth’s Amazon page.
With thanks to Isabelle and Windmill Books for my ARC, which I received in exchange for an honest review!