The Gisburn Witch

Written by Sarah L King
Review by Richard Tearle

Jennet Preston was twice tried for witchcraft in the early part of 17th century, at the same time as the Pendle witch trials, but because of the singular location, her story is largely ignored.

We first meet Jennet when she is a teenager, working as a kitchen maid at Westby Hall, Gisburn, where she falls in love with Thomas Lister, heir to the estates. Although their relationship is purely platonic, she is accused of seducing the boy and forced to leave her employment. Her father arranges a marriage for her, to William Preston, a good man who she grows to like, but Tom remains her first love.

Jennet is unable to carry a pregnancy to its full term and despairs of ever having children. In order to supplement their meagre income from the farm that William rents from the Listers, Jennet finds employment spinning for a nearby businessman. In order to learn the work, Jennet is sent to Elizabeth Device a few miles away. Elizabeth’s mother gives Jennet charms to help her have a child. Meanwhile, Tom has married and produced children of his own.

Years later, Jennet has fallen out with the Device family and a chance encounter with Tom leads to her being re-employed at Westby Hall as a nursemaid to his children.

Then Jennet is arrested and charged with witchcraft.

Jennet’s character is never fully explored; she seems to be in a daze throughout the book, and the author has missed a great opportunity to create someone memorable. The years skip by rather quickly, and the final sequences are dealt with too speedily. However, this is an interesting and entertaining novel, and I look forward to the proposed sequel.