Megge of Bury Down
In Kightlinger’s debut novel, Megge is a girl of Bury Down, a small village in the medieval Cornish countryside. To an outside observer, her life may seem ordinary enough. She lives with her mother, aunt, cousin, and great aunts, working as healers and tending their sheep. However, she is actually the latest in a long line of hedge witches. When it is Megge’s turn to learn the secrets of her mother’s magical book on her sixth birthday, it calls her a murderer. Terrified, Megge refuses to have anything to do with her family’s traditions. Instead, she learns the trades of weaver and herder. However, when a horrific event takes place, Megge is forced to follow tradition and fight to keep the book out of the hands of wicked people.
There are many things to enjoy in this novel. The main characters all have depth and complexity, though a bit more character development is warranted since the novel covers many years. The descriptions of medieval life are adequate, but better fleshed-out detail would have added to the atmosphere. The recurring theme “What people can’t see, they fear; what they fear, they hurt” is woven skillfully throughout the narrative. The plot, unfortunately, is quite slow-moving. While this is not a problem in itself, it is when nothing really advances the storyline. A lot of backstory doled out piecemeal makes for a somewhat choppy read.
Another quibble I had was the age range for the book. Megge is six when we meet her, and 13 by the end. Based on the characters’ ages, I’d say this is suitable for middle-grade readers, but given the violent content and slow pacing, the book is for adults (and is marketed as such). However, many adult readers may struggle to identify with such a young protagonist. The novel is enjoyable enough, but ultimately, I wanted to like it more than I actually did.