I really enjoy reading Karen Maitland's dark tales, in particular loved The Company of Liars and The Owl Killers. All her books have a unique narration from five different narrators in The Owl Killers to a mandrake in The Gallow's Curse. The Vanishing Witch is no different and is told from a all-seeing ghost and their pet ferret, with the odd chapter of first person narration from two key female characters.
The book starts with Maitland's usual list of players and a grim tale about a snake. We are then introduced to our narrator and Robert of Bassingham, a wealthy wool merchant in Lincoln. He is asked for help in investments by Mistress Caitlin who has been recently widowed and he soon becomes close to her and her enchanting teenage daughter Leonia must to the annoyance of his wife and son. Robert begins to see an eerie cloaked figure following him and there are some suspicious deaths and incidents throughout the town and surrounding villages, but who is to blame?
The Vanishing Witch is a mix of the supernatural, witchcraft, old wives tales and historical detail. Set during the unrestful reign of Richard II, the author explores how the poll tax affected the village folk and landowners and what caused ordinary people to rise up and rebel causing destruction and horrific deaths. Each chapter begins with a charm which can ward off evil. Some are amusing while others are terrifying. The author provides the reader with a timeline of events by splitting chapters up into months and introducing each chapter with either a location or the name of the narrator.
I did guess one of the twists early on, but there is a reveal on the last pages which I did not expect and Maitland's clever storytelling slowly builds up the climax. The action centres on the London riots during one part of the book as a couple of the characters get caught up in the destruction of John of Gaunt's palace. The book concludes with some historical notes and a glossary of terms which was very interesting and proves how well researched her books are.
I was fortunate to buy this book when Karen Maitland was visiting my local Waterstones store in Uxbridge and we had a lovely chat with her about her interests in old tales and the imposing English countryside. She joked about the dark themes she was interested in and how The Gallow's Curse was the first book to be narrated by a root vegetable! Thanks to the lovely staff at Waterstones for arranging this!