The Silver Well

Written by Kate Forsyth Kim Wilkins
Review by Sarah Johnson

Many of the world’s mystical places have remained so for centuries, even millennia. In this absorbing collection, the authors present seven stories, all linked through their setting of Cerne Abbas, a village in Dorset, which is home to an ancient wishing well and a giant (and well-endowed) hill-figure sculpted into the chalk countryside. The folk beliefs of the region play a strong role in each story, each of which is extraordinarily attuned to its era while evoking the timelessness of human emotions: protectiveness, jealousy, hope, fear, and love.

The book opens in the present day, with Rosie Brightwell, an Australian woman, visiting her grandparents’ English birthplace after a messy breakup. The subsequent tales progressively lead further back in time, detailing the lives of earlier Brightwells and their lovers, neighbors, and adversaries, and finally conclude with the remainder of Rosie’s story. It’s hard to pick a favorite!

“My Sister’s Ghost” is a suspenseful Victorian ghost story suffused with grief and desperation, and with a delightful child narrator. In “The True Confession of Obedience-to-God Ashe,” full of devilish twists, a Puritan parson’s spiteful daughter uses the well’s power to achieve her desire. Set in 999 AD, a time of panic and prophecy, “The End of Everything” tells of the gentle love between an unlikely couple. “The Cunning Woman’s Daughter” is a well-crafted Tudor mystery told against the backdrop of the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Perhaps the most moving is “The Blessing,” which sees a young woman reacting to the devastation of World War II. And “The Giant” shows the villagers in 44 AD, preparing for the expected Roman incursion in different ways. The stories are tinged with supernatural happenings. This is a satisfying, multi-dimensional read for anyone who likes pondering history’s deep and intricate layers.