The Vanishing Witch – Karen Maitland

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What is Karen Maitland’s genre? Medieval historical fiction? Supernatural? Thriller? Suspense? Her books are a bit of all these things and they are great because of it.

A widow arrives in Lincoln with her two children in tow. She seems kind at first, offering to help wool merchant Robert care for his ill wife but then she moves in. Robert’s wife dies and then others start dying. Is witchcraft involved?

It is not entirely clear at first what Caitlin wants with Robert. Her children, Edward and Leonia, are both strange in their own ways. Edward is arrogant, lazy and disrespectful – not a nice man at all. Leonia is not as sweet and innocent as she seems and soon lures Robert’s young son, Adam, under her spell.

It kept me guessing. I couldn’t work out what Caitlin’s game was or what her children and housekeeper were about. There was loads of excellent twists.

The Vanishing Witch is also a story of rebellion. It takes place around the time of the Peasants Revolt which was a protest against the unfair poll tax being imposed on the people. We see the story of Gunter and Nonie who just have misery piled upon misery.

I will say the ghost narrator and his/her pet ferret was a bit strange but it all comes together and makes sense at the end of the novel.

Maitland is a dark writer but her stories are so atmospheric and engrossing. The story has it’s fair share of violence in it, but I think it’s true of the time period.

As with all Karen Maitland’s novels there is interesting parallels with the present day. Maitland published this in 2014 when the protests against the bedroom tax were at their height. We can also see the same wealth disparities people are so angry at today and the arrogance of those who benefit from the labour of the oppressed is still the same today as it was back then.

I love Karen Maitland’s books and am never disappointed. I’d recommend her to anyone.

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