Back in April, I was very lucky to be offered a review copy of the newly released, historical fiction, Her Kind by new-to-me author, Niamh Boyce. However, knowing it was about a witch trial, I decided to save it for the darker, cooler days of autumn, when I thought it would make the perfect read.
And oh boy was this the perfect read for then, as it swept me away to the medieval, walled city of Kilkennie: a strict, overcrowded bastion of English power in an otherwise wild, hostile Ireland, in the year 1324. Where, one cold, dark night, a half-starved mother and daughter are blown into town seeking refuge with a childhood friend. This friend is Dame Alice Kytler, a wealthy, Flemish money-lender, who begrudgingly gives them jobs as servants in her household; gives them new ‘English’ names and threatens them to never reveal their old connection.
However it is not long before ‘Petronelle’ and her daughter ‘Basilia’ realise this is no safe haven. Instead the bustling, claustrophobic streets are overflowing with gossip, pride, greed and envy, which are as dangerous as the wolves that hunted them out in the savage countryside. They are also to learn that their new mistress is equally admired and reviled for her wealth, beauty and power, and they are all to learn too late what a truly dangerous enemy Alice and they have made of the zealot, English Bishop Ledrede.
The atmosphere Boyce has been able to create in this dark, tense tale is almost tangible and thick enough to cut. Straight from the off, on the very first page, the reader is confronted with a ghoulish, expectant crowd waiting in the snow for the ‘witches’ to be brought out of the castle goal, paraded in single file, with heretic crosses stitched to their chests. We know from the beginning how this is going to end. Then Boyce takes us back to recount the events that led up to the terrible Kilkenny Witch Trial. Even knowing the end, I read on gripped and carried along by the drama, tension and sad inevitability.
Made even more harrowing by the fact that while this is a work of fiction it has been inspired by real events and real women. Women who have simply been remembered as names and dates in the ‘official sources’ written by elite men like Richard Ledrede. Boyce says all we really know of Petronelle de Midia is her name and date of death: 3rd November 1324. So Boyce wrote this novel to explore what may have happened and to give Petronelle a voice. And I think what a powerful and believable voice and tale she has created for Petronelle and all the women like her.
All in all, I thought Her Kind was a dark, atmospheric and emotive tale, that shines a light onto a dark period in history and the women caught up in it. All told by Boyce with a clear, sharp style; a pacey menace and believable action and voices. I must look out for more by this author. Great read.
Thank you to the publishers, Penguin Ireland for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.
I’d love to hear your thoughts: Have you read this? What do you think? Do you want to read this? Have you read any other witch trial books?
This was book #5 for R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril XIV.