I received a free copy of Bitter Magic by Nancy Hayes Kilgore from the author thanks to Caitlin Hamilton Summie at no charge for my honest review.
About Bitter Magic:
Bitter Magic, inspired by the true story of Isobel Gowdie and her witchcraft confession, reveals a little-known corner of history-the lives of both pagan and Protestant women in the Scottish Reformation of the 1600s as witch trials and executions threatened their lives, values, and beliefs.
The story is told by Isobel herself and also by Margaret Hay, a fictionalized seventeen-year-old noble woman. When Margaret stumbles across Isobel one day, it seems as though Isobel is commanding the dolphins in the ocean to dance. Margaret is enchanted. She becomes interested in Isobel’s magic, in fairies, and in herbal remedies; Isobel freely shares her knowledge. While Margaret worries that being around Isobel could be dangerous, she also respects Isobel’s medical successes and comes to believe that acknowledging the efficacy of herbal remedies or believing in fairies does not challenge her Christianity.
But Isobel believes in more than cheery fairies and herbal medicine. She has dark wishes as well, unknown to most people. Isobel seeks vengeance against the local lord who executed her mother for witchcraft. More important, Isobel’s trance experiences (or are they dreams?) lead her to confess to a wide range of sins, including consorting with the devil. Then, during her trial, Isobel names thirteen others, calling them all witches. To her great shock, Margaret hears her own name. Can her tutor, a Christian mystic named Katharine, save them?
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About the Author:
Nancy Hayes Kilgore is the author of two other novels, Wild Mountain (Green Writers Press, 2017) and Sea Level (RCWMS, 2011). Her writing has won the Vermont Writers Prize and a ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Award. She has published in a She Writes Press anthology, Times They Were A’Changing: Women Remember the 60s and 70s, in Bloodroot Literary Magazine, Vermont Magazine, The Bottle Imp, and on Vermont Public Radio. Nancy is a graduate of the Radcliffe Writing Seminars and holds a Master of Divinity degree and a Doctorate in Pastoral Counseling. She is a writing coach, psychotherapist, and former parish pastor, and leads workshops on creative writing and spirituality. She lives with her husband, dog, and cat in Vermont. nancykilgore.com
‘Bitter Magic may masquerade as a windswept historical gothic in the mode of Daphne DuMaurier or Anya Seton, but is something rarer. Nancy Kilgore’s vision is utterly contemporary, concerned not with simple outcomes of guilt or innocence in the public sphere but the complicated shades of gray within her characters.’
– Stewart O’Nan, author of A Prayer for the Dying
“This page-turning story will keep you up at night, wondering what’s going to happen in a much more complex story than we usually hear about “the burning times.” The heroine is a curious, likable young woman, the “witch” an expert naturalist and healer who goes astray, and you’ll never see a more thrilling version of the devil.”
– Mary Dingee Fillmore, bestselling author of An Address in Amsterdam
“Compelling . . . A fascinating story made more so by the tie to the historical record and actual documents . . . a more complete, holistic portrait of a strange aspect of human history than other witch narratives.”
– Ruth Linnaea Whitney, author of SLIM, a novel of Africa
“Kilgore’s lyrical prose and talent for world building create a wondrous landscape in which the many-layered story unfolds.”
– Tracey Enerson Wood, bestselling author of The Engineer’s Wife
I love historical fiction as anyone who reads my reviews can surely figure out. But when it comes to time periods there are certain eras that interest me more than others and Bitter Magic hits one of my favorites. This period in English and Scottish history is rife with conflict and the worst of it was the way women were treated who were a little bit different or who were knowledgeable about herbs. The women who stood in for doctors and could treat the ills of the townspeople. When something didn’t go right or blame needed to be assigned it was easy to point the finger and call witch at these women.
Bitter Magic is the story of one such “witch”, Isobel Gowdie and a young girl , Margaret, who goes to her looking for help. Margaret’s friend has been kidnapped by a rival clan and she believes Isobel can help to bring her back.
What follows is an eminently readable book that kept me interested from the first page to the last. The characters are fascinating and tying in Isobel’s “truth” makes for a thoroughly engaging read. I found myself fully involved in the story. The only issues were some jarring uses of vernacular that sometimes just didn’t ring true but it didn’t do enough to ruin the story for me.