Friday, August 31, 2012

What Am I Reading Thursday: The Withes Hand by Wendy Joseph

This book begins with a brief history of the Fourth Crusade, which sets the tone along with some religious dissension. The story is full of references to long forgotten members of the Catholic Church as well as beautiful descriptions of France in the Middle ages. Under the reign on Pope Innocent III the search for witches is made main stream in order to bring the people back under the Church’s thumb. 

We are first introduced to Malaxia, a witch of some serious power, approaching a home in dead of night and setting it ablaze. She burns it down to the ground for one person the main character Liana. She tells Liana that she’s been chosen as her successor.

Liana being a peasant of the middle ages does the whole silly uneducated peasant thing and runs for the nearest church where she is met by an equally uneducated Bishop, labeled a witch for showing up half naked and chased out of how own town by the church guards.

Enter the next main character Jettaret a former Crusader on his way home to marry. Liana and Jettaret travel together under his protection to Lyon, where he lives. He sees her first as weak and troubled and unquestioningly continues to protecter her from Malaxia even though his faith in anything seems to be a little on the faulty side
When Liana begins using her new found powers he grows wary of her but still believes the best place for her is with him at Lyon.

I love all the beautiful descriptions of the terrain the travelers take. A picture is clearly made and appreciated, but when it comes to the characters I wanted more depth. I get that Jettaret is an honest man and that he’s disillusioned with the Church. For the first half of the book he is half angry or confused about both Liana and his faith. It does not help that she is confused as well. I just didn’t see his motivations for staying with her, spelled out. It was not until Jettaret teams up with an old crusader friend that we see the many more facets of his character.

Malaxia however was given that opportunity. While truly a malevolent woman she had a purpose, goals and was steadfast to her desires for Liana until the bitter end of the book. She is a character of great depth and full of mercurial mood swings executed superbly with minimal words to clog the story.

I found Liana to be a weak confused little girl even if the people in the story did not find her to be so. She has a stubborn streak that is recognized and used by both Malaxia and Jettaret, but that does not make her a strong person. A mule could be stubborn for all Liana was worth.

I found the richest parts of the book were moments between Malaxia and Liana after Liana’s training began and between Jettaret and his crusader friend Alberge. The interactions during these times were the best. Yet the time when Liana and Jettaret were alone in the woods traveling just seems long confusing and dry.

Maybe it is my lack of familiarity with the behavior between men and women during the middle ages that leaves me wanting more. Maybe it is the difference in classes between the two of them Jettaret being of the nobility and Liana a peasant that leaves me wondering what’s not being said. Whatever it is, I don’t know. Somehow a bond is formed between Jettaret and Liana, that spurs him to search for her after they are separated. This bond is the reason the story continues and does make for a nice ending  even if the end came as a surprise to me.

For the ending alone I give it one thumb, for the colorfully painted picture the journey was, I give this another thumb. I guess that makes two. But overall, I can honestly not  stay with that vote. Some places in the story were too sparse, some places so rich in detail, and a few places met a perfect balance of detail and interaction without wasting any words. So my final vote on this is 1.8 thumbs if that is such a thing.

I encourage everyone to read this book though if you like stories about boys coming home from war, women with knowledge being persecuted, and like thinking about how far we've come since the middle ages. You might even see a few parallels to the type of ignorance you see in this book and what you see now in the news.

You can get your copy of The Witch's Hand by Wendy Joseph  here on 

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