Saxon Tales: The Witch Who Faced the Fire

Written by Terry Deary
Review by Elizabeth Hawksley

York, 7th century A.D. Young Aldith is only five when the plague comes. Her father is a tanner, who turns animal skins into leather. It’s a filthy, smelly job and the villagers blame the tannery for the plague and burn it down. Fortunately, Aldith is rescued by the kindly ‘cunning man’ Wilfred, a sort of healer. She becomes his apprentice, learning, not only to read and write, but also how to prepare herbs for healing.

Wilfred teaches her that, as well as herbs, people need a touch of ‘magic’, a bit of hocus-pocus which isn’t true, but which makes the patients feel better. Then, one day, when Wilfred is ill, Aldith prepares a potion for one of the townswomen’s husbands. Unfortunately, she uses the wrong recipe by mistake and it nearly kills him. This time, the villagers come for Aldith and they are determined to burn down the house with her and Wilfred in it. Can Aldith come up with some ‘magic’ in time to save their lives?

There is an interesting epilogue about Anglo-Saxon healing, and Terry Deary has a look at Shakespeare’s witches’ recipe in Macbeth. Tambe’s illustrations deserve a special mention. Children of 6+ should enjoy this.