Hello humans! Back for another book review? Well you are in luck! Today’s review was another one of those ‘third book in a three for two’ purchases that you never really know if they’re going to be good or not. Coincidentally I read Witchborn having just read Lady Mary so it was a bit of a Tudor binge, though in this case we’re looking at Elizabeth I.
It’s 1577. Queen Elizabeth I has imprisoned scheming Mary Queen of Scots, and Alyce’s mother is burned at the stake for witchcraft. Alyce kills the witchfinder and flees to London – but the chase isn’t over yet. As she discovers her own dark magic, powerful political forces are on her trail. She can’t help but wonder: why is she so important? Soon she finds herself deep in a secret battle between rival queens, the fate of England resting on her shoulders…
Since this is Elizabeth I, I had a bit more historical context to go on, however, this book being a fantasy novel that meant that historical accuracy wasn’t exactly the order of the day. This is a reimagining of this period, in which there are such things as witches, and there’s a whole lot of subterfuge going on. I thought that the setting itself, the descriptions of the grime of Tudor London, for example, the horrors of Bedlam hospital were well written and made me decide never to time travel back to the 16th century. Where the worldbuilding fell a little flat for me was the set-up of the magic system. It was never made explicitly clear how magic worked, how it was passed on and how different people could manipulate it. I can see why this might be a deliberate choice as Alyce is equally unaware, and in a short novel such as this, large metaphysical ideas can get the reader a little bogged down. Nevertheless, I would have appreciated a little more information just to help me to understand the strengths and limitations of the characters.
I thought the characters in this book were well written. It took a little while for me to warm up to Alyce as a protagonist. I think that’s because she spends a lot of the opening of the book recovering from being in a hospital and/or on the run. Once she starts to get a handle on what is going on and what she herself can do she became a lot more likeable.
I personally liked the supporting characters a lot more than Alyce, from actors to Walter Raleigh himself I thought there were some interesting back stories threaded through the book. I found myself wanting to know more about the rivalry between these incarnations of Mary Queen of Scots and Elizabeth the first.
The length of this book is a bit of a blessing and a curse. It’s a great thing because it means that you never get bored or mired in excessive detail as can sometimes happen in novels with a historical setting. On the flipside, there were some elements of this book, the magic system being one, that could have used a chapter or so of development.
I very rarely read magical realism novels which aren’t set in the modern day, this was, therefore, a refreshing read and I shall be interested to see what else Nicholas Bowling brings out in the future. If you’re a fan of the Tudor period and you also like a good fantasy novel this is a great place to start.
My rating: 3/5 stars
All opinions are my own
What say you? What other historical fantasy novels should I read? Let me know in the comments below!