Book of Shadows

Written by Paula Brackston
Review by Jasmina Svenne

1628. When Bess Hawksmith’s mother is hanged as a witch there is only one person to whom she can turn to save her from sharing her mother’s fate. The help of the warlock, Gideon Masters comes at a terrible price, one that, ultimately Bess is not prepared to pay. (Bess’s story continues from the 17th century up to the present.)

2007 and Bess, now calling herself Elizabeth, is still in hiding. Believing she may have finally found a safe haven she allows herself to befriend a lonely teenager, Tagen, in whom she glimpses a spark of magic. But, Gideon is not done with her yet, and Elizabeth realises she will be forced to face him one last time.

I am not usually a fan of supernatural fiction, but Brackston does a good job of rooting her magic in the everyday world, not only in this century but previous ones, too, which makes it easier to suspend disbelief. It helps that she starts with odd little incidents that could be put down to coincidence, sleight of hand or the medicinal properties of herbs building towards more dramatic demonstrations of magic.

There are one or two tiny glitches with her research. Haymaking, for instance, unlike the rest of the harvesting, takes place at the beginning and not the end of summer. She is also unaware that the new moon always occurs in whichever sign the sun is currently placed. In mid-October the new moon will be in Libra making it impossible for it to move into Cancer the next day. Minor quibbles that did not spoil my enjoyment of the book.

The characterisation is consistent throughout and there are some interesting twists to historical periods we think we know – not just the 17th century but late Victorian London and the dying days of World War I. All in all, a promising debut novel.