My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The Witch's Hand takes place in southern France during the thirteenth century. The book mixes sorcery with a realistic portrayal of the period in a manner that reminded me of the best aspects of A Game of Thrones. The novel has a strong plot about a young peasant girl, Liana, who has been picked by Malaxia, a powerful witch, to be her heiress. Liana meets Jattaret, a disillusioned warrior who has returned from the crusades to restart a privileged life with an arranged marriage. Jattaret's full name is Michel Antoine Jettaret, Vicomte de Solignac. His family is wealthy and powerful while Liana is the daughter of a game watcher for the Bishop. But Jattaret still has the ideals that pushed him to join the crusades. Those ideals, along with his admiration of Liana's innocence, lead him in a fight to save her from Malaxia's power.
In some ways The Witch's Hand is a “good vs. evil” story, but it isn't told in black and white. The flaws of the church are shown and the bigotry of the local farmers who fight against witchcraft are also shown. Here is what Jattaret says about that subject:
All this witchcraft business...it is a way, I am afraid, of people saying they don't like what you think, what you believe, what you look like, what you do,”
The attention to detail in Wendy Joseph's writing pulled me into her story. Here is a sample from when Jattaret goes to a local village to purchase a horse for Liana:
He stepped closer, stroked the mare's head – eyes alert, deep and bright, no sign of cloudiness in them – and waved his hand behind each eye to check her rear and peripheral vision. She blinked. Good. To test her hearing he snapped his fingers by each ear, and she flicked them but was not head shy. Good. He pulled her mouth open and rolled her lips back for a look at her teeth, and judged her to be about seven; little wear on the back teeth yet.
The same attention to detail gives a beautiful authenticity to the period and the setting:
The trail descended into thick woods at the bottom of the ridge and they rode through them, not following any path that Liana could see. At Sext they halted briefly for a midday meal of sorts – bread, wine, and dried sausage that chewed like wood bark. As they continued the trees thinned out, broken more and more by meadows in soft bloom, and Liana's thoughts of Malaxia vanished. When the sunrays were slanting low from the west, and Jettaret judged they were well out of the way of any searchers from Peranville or chance wanderers, they stopped by a spring to make camp.
My wife and I spent two weeks in France last year, my first trip to Europe, so I have a particular interest in novels set in that country. This novel is an excellent read for anyone with an interest in European history, with the added pleasure of mysticism for excitement.
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