When I came across The Witch Hunter by Virginia Boecker, I was looking for YA novels, fantasy, or historical novels since I’d been reading lots of beach reads and wanted a change in genre. Luckily, The Witch Hunter hit all three of those in one story and I was intrigued by the premise, so I couldn’t resist picking it up. I’m so glad I did. I will say that I promptly forgot that it was a YA novel because, honestly, this heroine could be any age and the story is every bit as well developed as any novel intended for adults. I find that a lot in good YA novels, which makes me regret that YA is defined as a genre that may keep some adults from reading its stories – but that’s a subject for another day. Should The Witch Hunter be on your TBR pile?
In 16th century Anglia (a country very like medieval England in our world), witches were once revered but no longer. King Malcolm is determined to rid the world of all witches and wizards, and has convinced the people of his kingdom that they are evil incarnate, responsible for any ills that befall them.
“There was a time when those things were tolerated, encouraged even. Magic was seen as helpful once. Then the plague came. Started by magic, spread by magic, we were almost destroyed by magic. We warned them to stop, but they didn’t stop. Now here we are, standing in a dirty square under a dirty sky, forcing them to stop…People are frightened of magic, yes. But the consequences of magic frighten them even more.”
Elizabeth Grey is a young protégé who has excelled at witch hunting, along with her best friend, Caleb. Caleb is actually the person who recommended her as a trainee to the witch hunters and she’s so glad he did because it seems to be her calling in life. She is convinced all magic is evil and longs to stamp it out of the world, to make the world a better place. It’s almost as if Elizabeth has a sixth sense that leads her right to witches. She’s proud that she’s brought so many of them to justice and has no qualms about their evilness being destroyed when they’re burned at the stake. It is what they deserve after all for the vile and evil things they do.
Then one day Inquisitor Blackwell, her trainer and mentor, discovers that she possesses herbs, herbs she needs because of something that happened which she had no control over. Herbs for medical purposes that she believes are basically innocent. That discovery leads him to brand her as not just a traitor to witch hunters but, even more horrifically, he brands her as a witch. And he will not listen to reason at all about why she had them. WTH? It’s as if her world has suddenly spun off of its axis. How could the very man who has been like a father to her, who she admires above all others, who taught her everything she knows, and who knows how strongly she feels about their righteous work – how could he possibly believe she could be a witch? They’re just herbs!
“Finally he speaks. ‘How long have you known?’ [Blackwell asks.]
‘How long have I known what?’
‘That you’re a witch.’
‘A witch?’ I shriek the word as if I’ve never heard it before. ‘I’m not a witch! I’m not – ‘
‘You. Had. Herbs.’ His words are a hiss, they may as well be a shout. ‘Witches herbs. As far as I’m concerned, that makes you a witch.’
‘I’m not a witch,’ I repeat. ‘I mean, I did have witches’ herbs. And I did take them. But I’m not a witch.’ Even to me, this sounds weak.
‘What else do you have tucked away, besides these herbs?’ Blackwell flicks his wrist at them, still lying on his desk. ‘Wax dolls? Witches’ ladder? Spellbooks? A familiar?’
‘Nothing! I have nothing tucked away. I hate witchcraft, just as you do!’
‘Not as I do,’ His voice is a shower of winter rain down my back. ‘Not I.’”
There is no hope of making Blackwell see sense. Elizabeth is tossed into prison. She knows her fate and that the judgment handed down will be automatic, particularly since the highly respected Blackwell is her accuser. She will burn at the stake like all the witches she has caught and prosecuted. Talk about the ultimate irony…the best witch hunter in the land is going to burn.
While she’s anxiously awaiting her fate, as if things hadn’t become crazy enough, the most infamous rogue wizard in the kingdom suddenly appears in her prison cell. Nicholas Perevil is a wizard she’s been working desperately to catch and there he is. It’s insane! Even more insane is the message he has for her. He confirms that she is, indeed, a witch. In fact, he says she’s one of the more powerful witches in the kingdom. He offers to save her on one condition; she must come with him and help him remove a curse that is killing him. Seriously? She’s supposed to save a man she has always believed was evil incarnate? Yeah, right…still she doesn’t want to burn at the stake. I mean, who would?
So she agrees to go with him, still thinking he’s full of it and that she will find a way to capture and prosecute him. That should prove to Blackwell that she’s still his best witch hunter and was never a traitor, right? As for her being a witch, obviously Nicholas is just feeding her a line to get some evil thing he wants. No way could she actually be a witch – not given how much she hates witches!
When she meets the members of Nicholas’ Reformers group, what will she learn about the motives behind the king’s decree about witches? How will they react when they find Nicholas has brought a notorious witch hunter into their midst? Why did Blackwell really betray her and why didn’t Caleb spring her from her jail cell as he promised? Why would her best friend leave her there to die?
Elizabeth is a great protagonist, one who lets us in so that we’re privy to her thoughts, hopes, dreams, and fears. She is loyal to a fault when she believes in something, even if she believes in something that may prove wrong later. At least she is willing to look at other perspectives once she comes face to face with unpleasant possibilities. I’m not going to say anything about Caleb, Blackwell, or Nicholas to avoid spoilers. I will say, however, that there is some romantic interest in this novel – just not with whom. Bwahahahaha…
Virginia Boecker has written a very believable fantasy novel, which doesn’t veer far from historical paranoia about witches in our own world. It is filled with adventure, sword fights, some monsters, a few pirates, white and black magic, and lots of interesting characters. And, best of all, she’s left it wide open for a sequel – please, please write a sequel. If you read Graceling, I’m told this one will be right down your alley. Even if you haven’t, as I haven’t, I’m betting you’re going to love it if you like this kind of fantasy novel. I had a nail-biting blast reading it and hope you will too!
Meet the Author, Panels & Book Signings:
June 27-29, 2015: (various panels) at American Library Association Conference in San Francisco, CA
July 9, 2015: 3pm Panel at San Diego Comic Con Convention Center in San Diego, CA
July 17-20, 2015: 9am Panel at International Literary Association – America’s Center Convention Center in St. Louis, MO
July 24, 2015: 7pm at Barnes & Noble – 3rd Street Promenade Branch in Santa Monica, CA
August 1-4, 2015: (Panel Time TBA) at SCBWI Annual – Los Angeles Hyatt Regency in the Century Plaza, Los Angeles, CA
September 25, 2015: (Panel Time TBA) at Texas Teen Book Festival – St. Edwards University in Austin, TX
Can’t wait to read it?
The Witch Hunter was published on June 2, 2015, so it’s available in all formats from your favorite online bookseller below (or in the right column for iBooks). If you order the ebook, you can download it immediately and begin reading – how’s that for instant gratification?
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