My review of Weave a Web of Witchcraft by Jean M. Roberts

Set in 17th century Massachusetts

Hugh of Gosberton is a bricklayer. When his older brother is forced off the family farm and the brick business takes a downturn, Hugh decides to emigrate to Massachusetts and settles in the small village of Springfield. After three years of hard work, he pays off the loan for his passage and obtains a ramshackle house, a plot of land and a brick kiln. Then he set about finding a wife. His choice is Mary, a servant girl, but Mary shows her shrewish nature immediately after the wedding. Hugh continues to work hard, but Mary is unhappy with her lot and their marriage goes from bad to worse. When their little son dies of a strange illness, Mary at first thinks it is the work of a woman she had previously accused of witchcraft. But then, inexplicably, her suspicions fall on Hugh. She believes he is a witch and shares her suspicions with the other villages who begin to turn away from Hugh. From this point, the drama increases in tantalizing increments.

Springfield is a community of ordinary, hardworking people who help each other out. The women are there when a neighbour is in labour or to offer solace to the bereaved, and the men borrow each other’s tools. But when witchery raises its ugly head they are eager to point the finger, to fabricate outlandish tales about an erstwhile friend. Why? They work hard for little reward. They have few pleasures. Only the misdeeds of their neighbours add spice to the dreary round of their days. It is a perfect climate for the kind of superstitious hysteria that accompanies a suspicion of witchcraft. Ordinary people feed on the sensational.

Hugh and Mary are credible characters. To her credit, the author hasn’t tried to smooth out their rough edges. They are people of their time. There is a slew of other characters. With the exception of a few, I wasn’t able to follow who was who, but this did not affect my enjoyment of the story.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable book. I believe it is the author’s first, and she told it well, laying out the groundwork for the accusation without the story ever dragging. There is, however, a considerable number of grammatical errors. The book would be much improved if these were removed.

****

 

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