REVIEWED BY LINDA HILL
From the very first page, The Witches of Vardø holds the reader spellbound…
The book is a feat of dramatic storytelling that draws on the real events of witch hunts and persecution in Norway in the early 1660s, but blends that history with adventure, magical realism and a feisty insight into feminism and the patriarchy. The result is a narrative that entertains, educates and compels. It’s both brutal and terrifying – and yet beautifully written and affecting.
The descriptions are vivid, poetic and transporting. It’s impossible not to be plunged into the harsh environment of seventeenth-century Norway. It is a world of division and danger, and the perils of birth, the sea, hierarchy and those who will stop at nothing to retain their power.
Bewitching and authentic
The chapters alternate viewpoints, and each has a little hook at the end that removes our ability to set the book aside. The division of The Witches of Vardø into five parts adds to the sense of drama and tradition, and while the language is completely accessible, it has a style that matches the time and setting brilliantly. The dialogue is pitch-perfect because it feels authentic. Aside from the main story, there are additional tales that add profound meaning and understanding – leaving us feeling completely bewitched.
Anna’s first-person account is fascinating; the more she reveals of herself, her prejudices and her selfish will to survive, the more intriguing, unpleasant and yet forgivable she is. As the story progresses, our understanding of her and response to her changes significantly. Indeed, Anya Bergman illustrates through Anna the strength and complexity of women in an intelligent and powerful manner.
The trio of Anna, Ingeborg and Maren make up a feminist triumvirate that distils womanhood, magic and resilience into a narrative that shocks, entertains, educates and disturbs.
Part history, part magical realism, part adventure, part social commentary and so much more besides, The Witches of Vardø is an exciting, disturbing and hugely satisfying story with something for every reader. It’s quite unforgettable.