Friday 21 December 2018

Neo-Victorian Voices: The Witch of Willow Hall, Hester Fox (2018)

Whichever book I reviewed next as part of Neo-Victorian Voices series had a tough act to follow, since I’d rated The Twelve Rooms of the Nile by Enid Shomer so highly. This time I went to the more commercial end of the spectrum with Hester Fox’s recent debut, The Witch of Willow Hall, set in nineteenth-century Massachusetts.

The Witch of Willow Hall, Hester Fox (2018)
Our main character, Lydia Montrose, is a Boston-born witch who doesn’t know it, a descendent of one executed in Salem two centuries before. The novel also features a fair number of ghosts/spirits—hostile and friendly—and supernatural happenings, as well as family secrets that would still shock today.

But overall it feels like a book for lovers of Austenian romance, rather than horror fans. There is sister rivalry and a central marriage plot, and gowns and a ball are key topics of conversation.

Hester Fox
It’s all solid, silly, historical fiction fun. The novel is in first person, present tense, giving it a YA feel, and, while the setting is an unusual one and anachronisms are generally avoided (except in some of the modern sounding dialogue), Fox didn’t teach me much about 1820s New England.

The pacing and plotting are good and Lydia is a well-developed heroine, with love interests who have personalities of their own. I wanted her sister Catherine to show a little more depth by the ending. The siblings’ relationships are a high point of the novel but I was looking for a little complexity about the rights and wrongs of Lydia and Catherine’s points of view.

If you like your costume dramas with a shadow of darkness, this may well be a good winter read for you.

Which twenty-first century written, nineteenth-century set, novels would you like the Secret Victorianist to read next? Let me know—here, on Facebook or by tweeting @SVictorianist.

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