The Hammer of Witches

Written by Begoña Echeverria
Review by Nicole Evelina

The Hammer of Witches is the story of two very different but connected characters in a small Basque town during the witch hunt of 1610: Maria, a young girl grieving the death of her mother and struggling to assume the role of woman of the house while secretly learning to read, and Father Salvador Zabaleta, who was once in love with Maria’s mother before becoming a priest, and who is now charged with guarding her safety amid an increasingly suspicious environment. As the hysteria over witches grips the village, both girls fall under the shadow of suspicion by the Inquisition and find their faith tested in very different ways.

This book is a gripping page-turner of horrific historical events. While the beginning and end may seem slow in comparison to the lightning-paced middle, the entire novel is a strong portrayal of a time period in which superstition, and blind faith in the edicts of the Catholic Church, reigned over logic, reason and humanity. This is the first book I’ve ever read that made me feel what it must have been like to be a victim of unfounded suspicion, forced to rely on personal faith, or recant all one holds true. It also shows the other side of the story, what it is like to be faced with judging guilt or innocence when the expectation of superiors and neighbors is clear.

In addition to being a riveting story, this book is important as a cultural resource in that it preserves many of the traditional stories of the Basque people about witches. It also serves as a reminder that such blind hatred is possible, even today, if we allow ourselves to be swayed to anger, without deep thought and consideration for the humanity of all involved. Highly recommended.