Publishers: Windmill Books
Genre: Historical fiction
Pub date: 22 Apr 2021
Thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for a copy of this book in return for an honest review.
I was very excited about Cunning Women and loved the premise. It’s set in 1620s Lancashire, after James I had published Demonology and when God-fearing communities suspected anyone different of being witches. Sarah and her family are healers, who live away from the village and suffer their judgement while selling them healing salves and poultices on the side. When Sarah meets Daniel, son of the wealthiest man in the village, she starts to imagine another life for her and her family.
I love stories about witches – I recently read AK Blakemore’s The Manningtree Witches, set in a similar time, and adored it – but for me, this book really fell flat. It was essentially just a love story that happened to be set in 1620s Lancashire. And though that’s not really what it sells it as, I would’ve been able to get on board because I do love romance novels. But the romance in this book is instantaneous and inexplicable – Sarah and Daniel see each other for a moment and then are obsessed with each other for the rest of the novel, for no apparent reason. It felt unrealistic and therefore I couldn’t get on board with it and so didn’t care about it – and as that was the driving force of the novel, I really started to struggle.
I also found the plot weak – there’s a ridiculous part where the main character puts on the outfit of a milkmaid (so a clean dress and a bonnet) and no one recognises that it’s her! Even people who have seen her up close. Other than this, there isn’t too much plot to speak of, and I found picking the book up quite a struggle. Reading it definitely began to feel like a chore.
This book certainly wasn’t for me, and I wouldn’t recommend it to others either. If you’re looking for something witchy, I definitely recommend The Manningtree Witches. This novel is compared to The Essex Serpent on the blurb, which isn’t a fair comparison (they aren’t alike at all), but The Essex Serpent is also another book you should read instead of this one!