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Cunning Women: A Feminist Tale of Forbidden Love After the Witch Trials

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Lee is a magnetic new voice in historical fiction and CUNNING WOMEN is sure to be loved by fans of The Essex Serpent and The Mercies. Spring of 1620 in a Lancashire fishing community and the memory of the slaughter at Pendle is tight around the neck of Sarah Haworth. A birthmark reveals that Sarah, like her mother, is a witch. Torn between yearning for an ordinary life and Lee is a magnetic new voice in historical fiction and CUNNING WOMEN is sure to be loved by fans of The Essex Serpent and The Mercies. Spring of 1620 in a Lancashire fishing community and the memory of the slaughter at Pendle is tight around the neck of Sarah Haworth. A birthmark reveals that Sarah, like her mother, is a witch. Torn between yearning for an ordinary life and desire to discover what dark power she might possess, Sarah’s one hope is that her young sister Annie will be spared this fate. The Haworth family eke out a meagre existence in the old plague village adjoining a God-fearing community presided over by a seedy magistrate. A society built upon looking the other way, the villagers’ godliness is merely a veneer. But the Haworth women, with their salves and poultices, are judged the real threat to morality. When Sarah meets lonely farmer’s son Daniel, she begins to dream of a better future. Daniel is in thrall to the wild girl with storms in her eyes, but their bond is tested when a zealous new magistrate vows to root out sins and sinners. In a frenzy of fear and fury, the community begins to turn on one another, and it’s not long before they direct their gaze towards the old plague village … and does Daniel trust that the power Sarah wields over him is truly love, or could it be mere sorcery?


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Lee is a magnetic new voice in historical fiction and CUNNING WOMEN is sure to be loved by fans of The Essex Serpent and The Mercies. Spring of 1620 in a Lancashire fishing community and the memory of the slaughter at Pendle is tight around the neck of Sarah Haworth. A birthmark reveals that Sarah, like her mother, is a witch. Torn between yearning for an ordinary life and Lee is a magnetic new voice in historical fiction and CUNNING WOMEN is sure to be loved by fans of The Essex Serpent and The Mercies. Spring of 1620 in a Lancashire fishing community and the memory of the slaughter at Pendle is tight around the neck of Sarah Haworth. A birthmark reveals that Sarah, like her mother, is a witch. Torn between yearning for an ordinary life and desire to discover what dark power she might possess, Sarah’s one hope is that her young sister Annie will be spared this fate. The Haworth family eke out a meagre existence in the old plague village adjoining a God-fearing community presided over by a seedy magistrate. A society built upon looking the other way, the villagers’ godliness is merely a veneer. But the Haworth women, with their salves and poultices, are judged the real threat to morality. When Sarah meets lonely farmer’s son Daniel, she begins to dream of a better future. Daniel is in thrall to the wild girl with storms in her eyes, but their bond is tested when a zealous new magistrate vows to root out sins and sinners. In a frenzy of fear and fury, the community begins to turn on one another, and it’s not long before they direct their gaze towards the old plague village … and does Daniel trust that the power Sarah wields over him is truly love, or could it be mere sorcery?

30 review for Cunning Women: A Feminist Tale of Forbidden Love After the Witch Trials

  1. 5 out of 5

    Maureen

    1620’s Lancashire, county of the earlier, well documented Pendle Witch Trials, and where history may be about to repeat itself. Both Sarah Howarth and her mother, residents of a small fishing community, share a birthmark, marking them out as witches. Sarah and her family - her mother, sister Annie, and brother John, live on the outskirts of the community, in a run down house, in an abandoned plague hamlet, overlooking the village. Known as ‘cunning women’ (brother John doesn’t seem to have the ‘g 1620’s Lancashire, county of the earlier, well documented Pendle Witch Trials, and where history may be about to repeat itself. Both Sarah Howarth and her mother, residents of a small fishing community, share a birthmark, marking them out as witches. Sarah and her family - her mother, sister Annie, and brother John, live on the outskirts of the community, in a run down house, in an abandoned plague hamlet, overlooking the village. Known as ‘cunning women’ (brother John doesn’t seem to have the ‘gift’), he doesn’t have the birthmark for a start), they keep themselves to themselves, and are generally shunned and feared by the villagers, but they do receive visitors under cover of darkness, people who require healing, or spells to bring about long held desires. Sarah becomes involved with local farmer’s son, Daniel, after watching him tame a horse, and they realise that, for all their differences, they are falling in love. They begin to dare that they might be able to lead a normal life together, and secretly make plans for that, until a new magistrate arrives in the village, and he doesn’t take kindly to ‘cunning women’ who forsake God! It was a slow start, and I didn’t really connect with any of the characters, apart from Daniel, but I enjoyed it more as it progressed, when tensions were raised with the arrival of the new magistrate, and he began to make his presence felt. He threatens the very survival of Sarah’s family, and those of like minded people too. *Thank you to Netgalley and Random House UK, Cornerstone for an ARC in exchange for an honest unbiased review *

  2. 5 out of 5

    Beata

    The novel, set in the early years of the 17th century, with King James's 'Demonology' looming over the life of a hamlet in lancashire, is a promising debut by Ms Lee. The Haworths, craving for love and normal life and yet doomed to be shunned by the others, become victims of the omnipresent poverty after tragic death of the breadwinner. The locals turn up in their humble house under the cover of night should a need arise since the women are 'cunnning' and know ways to heal and treat illnesses, h The novel, set in the early years of the 17th century, with King James's 'Demonology' looming over the life of a hamlet in lancashire, is a promising debut by Ms Lee. The Haworths, craving for love and normal life and yet doomed to be shunned by the others, become victims of the omnipresent poverty after tragic death of the breadwinner. The locals turn up in their humble house under the cover of night should a need arise since the women are 'cunnning' and know ways to heal and treat illnesses, however, during the day, all they receive is contempt and indifference. In the wake of some events, a new magistrate arrives determined to root out any evil deeds and he poses a real danger to the Haworths. Ms Lee offers atmospheric HF, with the feelings of danger, helplessnes and prejudice prevailing thoughout the novel. It is a solid read linked to the issue of the witch hunts and trials so common under the 'patronage' of King James I. The book turned out to be an enjoyable read for me despite one a rather unbelievable idea. Still, since the cunning women how magic tricks .... A big thank-you to Elizabeth Lee, Random House and NetGalley for arc in exchange for my honest review.*

  3. 4 out of 5

    Amalia Gkavea

    190 pages. That's how long I waited. Waiting for something - anything - to happen. And in the meantime, I had to put up with awful, awful dialogue, detrimental plotlines, same-old-same-old ''witches are cool'' cries sprinkled with pseudo-modernised undertones and silly characters. And some ''Devil is an influencer'' vibes. Thank you but no! There is so much better Historical Fiction out there... ''Forbidden love''...Please! Whoever dared to compare this to The Essex Serpent in the book's blurb has 190 pages. That's how long I waited. Waiting for something - anything - to happen. And in the meantime, I had to put up with awful, awful dialogue, detrimental plotlines, same-old-same-old ''witches are cool'' cries sprinkled with pseudo-modernised undertones and silly characters. And some ''Devil is an influencer'' vibes. Thank you but no! There is so much better Historical Fiction out there... ''Forbidden love''...Please! Whoever dared to compare this to The Essex Serpent in the book's blurb has never even heard Sarah Perry's name.... Many thanks to Random House UK and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Carolyn

    In 1620 Sarah Haworth, her mother, older brother John and young sister Annie live in abject poverty on the outskirts of a small Lancashire fishing village. Sarah and her mother both carry the mark of the witch, a small red birthmark, and since Sarah's fisherman father died at sea have lived as 'cunning women' making their living preparing potions and salves. While Sarah's mother is also proficient at curses and spells, Sarah has tried to resist the dark forces within her and concentrate on potio In 1620 Sarah Haworth, her mother, older brother John and young sister Annie live in abject poverty on the outskirts of a small Lancashire fishing village. Sarah and her mother both carry the mark of the witch, a small red birthmark, and since Sarah's fisherman father died at sea have lived as 'cunning women' making their living preparing potions and salves. While Sarah's mother is also proficient at curses and spells, Sarah has tried to resist the dark forces within her and concentrate on potions that heal. When she falls in love with a gentle farmer's son, Daniel she longs only to be a normal village girl who can marry and have a family. Although shunned by the village and often treated cruelly, the inhabitants turn to them for cures and curses allowing them to eke out a poor living. However, when a new magistrate arrives in the village with a quest to hunt out Papists and witches, Sarah knows life is about to get very dangerous for them. Will she be able to forge the future she wants with Daniel and protect her younger sister, or is she doomed before her adult life even starts? This is a dark tale of prejudice and superstition. Although the suspicion of women who could heal with herbs and plants as witches is a well worn trope, it works well here in this tale of love, jealousy and revenge. The novel starts quite slowly but the tension ramps up as the new magistrate stirs up the villagers. The writing is spare and powerful with an unsettling undertone of danger. 3.5★ With thanks to Random House UK and Netgalley for a copy to read

  5. 4 out of 5

    Esther

    The writing was lovely but for me there was something missing. I was attracted to the story because the blurb stated that it took place in 1620 but I felt no sense of time in the writing. There were mentions of the plague and King James' Daemonology but the village could have been any English, pre-industrial, rural settlement. I didn’t even get a strong sense of the coastal location as they seemed so spend most of their time by the river. Also the ominous predictions threaded throughout the book o The writing was lovely but for me there was something missing. I was attracted to the story because the blurb stated that it took place in 1620 but I felt no sense of time in the writing. There were mentions of the plague and King James' Daemonology but the village could have been any English, pre-industrial, rural settlement. I didn’t even get a strong sense of the coastal location as they seemed so spend most of their time by the river. Also the ominous predictions threaded throughout the book of the threat posed by the new magistrate created a bit of an anti-climax when the actual harm was carried out by the villagers, initiated and urged on by the vengeful anger of a single individual. Reference was made to witch trials but they never materialised. There were constant descriptions of the grinding poverty endured by Sarah and her family and the villagers’ cruel rejection of them as the ‘other’. But that didn’t seemed to develop and became a little repetitive. At one point I even wondered if the audio book was abridged because while the point of view skipped about between the main characters it seemed to have skipped part of the narrative. In a community reliant on fishing the father can’t have been the only man to have perished at sea so why was only their family rejected? Had the mother become a ‘cunning woman’ only because she had no other way to provide for her family or had she always provided herbal remedies? This was a pleasant story, well read in the audio version but it didn’t live up to its potential. I received this audio-book from Net Galley, in exchange for an honest review

  6. 4 out of 5

    Mara

    3.5 stars - Lovely writing and some interesting themes to ponder on. This is a slow burning tale of women without a lot of choices in early 1600s rural England, as well as the weight of toxic patriarchy on a man with a gentle nature. I really liked Daniel in this one, but I also appreciated Sarah's resolve to protect her little sister as best she could from what was basically a n0-win situation. A bit plodding, but I think that was purposeful, and overall, a satisfying historical fiction book wi 3.5 stars - Lovely writing and some interesting themes to ponder on. This is a slow burning tale of women without a lot of choices in early 1600s rural England, as well as the weight of toxic patriarchy on a man with a gentle nature. I really liked Daniel in this one, but I also appreciated Sarah's resolve to protect her little sister as best she could from what was basically a n0-win situation. A bit plodding, but I think that was purposeful, and overall, a satisfying historical fiction book with a healthy splash of feminist themes

  7. 4 out of 5

    Miriam Smith (A Mother’s Musings)

    #CunningWomen is the powerful debut by Elizabeth Lee, set in a plague-rotten hamlet in Lancashire, 1620. Sarah Haworth lives with her mother, brother and dearly loved little sister Annie. They are desperately poor and their existence is meagre, relying on the precarious relationship with the neighbouring village along with what they can scavenge from the land. By night they are visited for favours and curses by the same people who shun them in the village by day. When Sarah meets Daniel, a young #CunningWomen is the powerful debut by Elizabeth Lee, set in a plague-rotten hamlet in Lancashire, 1620. Sarah Haworth lives with her mother, brother and dearly loved little sister Annie. They are desperately poor and their existence is meagre, relying on the precarious relationship with the neighbouring village along with what they can scavenge from the land. By night they are visited for favours and curses by the same people who shun them in the village by day. When Sarah meets Daniel, a young farmer’s son and their friendship continues to develop into more, they hope to be together as man and wife and be accepted by the community. However, after the arrival of a new magistrate spouting words of mistrust and anger, the words become fuel for hatred and a witch hunt commences against the Haworths. Described as cunning folk, they can cure and heal but there is also a side to them that can harm and as Sarah discovers her secret wildness, can she and Daniel form the life they so desire? Based during the horrific Pendle Witch Trials era, when those that did not conform were brutally persecuted, the author instills in the reader the pure fear and desperation of the persecuted people involved and my heart truly went out to them. I was invested in Sarah and Daniel and wanted their love to flourish and grow without fear of repercussions but when an incident occurs and her brother is suspected, the Haworths realise their lives and relationship are at risk. Focusing on prejudice and superstition, ignorance, jealousy and revenge, this novel grabbed me from the start. I was emotionally involved with the Haworths and their fragile life and found their use of herbs and flowers and all things natural, that could be used in potions and balms, very interesting and added further realistic ambience to an already atmospheric existence. Apart from one scene in the book that was (as a parent) quite harrowing to read, #CunningWomen is suitable for most ages, teens and upwards. As I have an intense interest in all things witches and the Pendle trials era, I found this book enjoyable and fascinating and was a slow burn family drama with unique characters. 4 stars

  8. 4 out of 5

    Polly

    "When they treat us this way I become the very creature they fear me to be." Forbidden love in a 1620s Lancashire fishing village, set amongst the moral panic of Puritanism and witch-hunts; Sarah Haworth and her family live in desolate poverty. A family of outcasts due to their witching ways, they are feared and hated by the same villagers who hypocritically turn to them for balms, salves, and occasional curses. When Sarah meets Daniel, the gentle farmer's son, the pair quickly bond. However, Dani "When they treat us this way I become the very creature they fear me to be." Forbidden love in a 1620s Lancashire fishing village, set amongst the moral panic of Puritanism and witch-hunts; Sarah Haworth and her family live in desolate poverty. A family of outcasts due to their witching ways, they are feared and hated by the same villagers who hypocritically turn to them for balms, salves, and occasional curses. When Sarah meets Daniel, the gentle farmer's son, the pair quickly bond. However, Daniel wonders how much his feelings for her are genuine, or how much they are due to a bewitchment. Meanwhile, Sarah is dealing with the hold that her powers have over her, and how they can be unleashed by her fury. Fuelled by fear, the villagers soon turn on each other, with the Haworths a handy scapegoat for crimes that the harsh new magistrate seeks retribution for. The clash of genres — low fantasy meets historical romance — made this an interesting read. The forbidden romance, the "wrong side of the tracks" romance, is such a well-worn trope but the witching element gave it a new life. Sarah and Daniel, although wildly different in most ways, share subtle similarities that made their push-pull relationship fascinating to read. There are questions left throughout to keep the reader guessing. Some are answered explicitly, some more implied by the historical setting. I'm always a big fan of stories set in small towns where seeds of distrust and suspicion have been sown, and this story is full of that trope. The fear and isolation that the villagers cast upon the Haworth family is mirrored in the growing fear that they have for each other, and a growing willingness to throw each other under the bus to save themselves. I found some of the paragraph structuring to be slightly disjointed. This may be due to the format of the ebook, but on several occasions I began a new paragraph and was taken out of the story slightly by the realisation that a passage of time had passed since the previous one, with no clear indication of that happening. 3.5 stars, rounded up.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Emma

    This was a great read. You have the sense from the very start that there isn’t going to be any happy ending and it’s like watching a car crash in slow motion. Sarah’s family and their situation was so tragic and the villagers, the magistrate and the general superstitious attitude of society were well described. I have read several books with a similar theme and this one was particularly good. Many thanks to Netgalley for an arc of this book.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Lou

    Cunning Women is a richly described historical epic from a mesmerising and magnetic new voice in the genre. Spring of 1620 in a Lancashire fishing community and the memory of the slaughter at Pendle is tight around the neck of Sarah Haworth. A birthmark reveals that Sarah, like her mother, is a witch. Torn between yearning for an ordinary life and desire to discover what dark power she might possess, Sarah’s one hope is that her young sister Annie will be spared this fate. The Haworth family eke Cunning Women is a richly described historical epic from a mesmerising and magnetic new voice in the genre. Spring of 1620 in a Lancashire fishing community and the memory of the slaughter at Pendle is tight around the neck of Sarah Haworth. A birthmark reveals that Sarah, like her mother, is a witch. Torn between yearning for an ordinary life and desire to discover what dark power she might possess, Sarah’s one hope is that her young sister Annie will be spared this fate. The Haworth family eke out a meagre existence in the old plague village adjoining a God-fearing community presided over by a seedy magistrate. A society built upon looking the other way, the villagers’ godliness is merely a veneer. But the Haworth women, with their salves and poultices, are judged the real threat to morality. Their neighbours publicly shun them while privately seeking their counsel and medical expertise. Yet the Pendle witch trials, organised by the zealous forces of the patriarchal law, seek to expose anyone “other”, and so Sarah and those she loves are confronted with a terrifying reckoning. When Sarah meets lonely farmer’s son Daniel, she begins to dream of a better future. Daniel is in thrall to the wild girl with storms in her eyes, but their bond is tested when a zealous new magistrate vows to root out sins and sinners. In a frenzy of fear and fury, the community begins to turn on one another, and it’s not long before they direct their gaze towards the old plague village … and does Daniel trust that the power Sarah wields over him is truly love, or could it be mere sorcery? Set in the shadows of the Pendle Which Trials, this searing novel follows the trials and tribulations of a family deemed ”cunning” - an euphemism for witches. It is timely in its depiction of hysteria and persecution, and beautifully evokes a historical period poised between dark ignorance and long-overdue enlightenment. It offers up an alluring and admirable heroine: unrelentingly brave, nuanced and unforgettable; I found that long after the final page I was reliving scenes in my head for weeks - a surefire sign that a book has left an indelible imprint on you. Cunning Women is a beguiling, enchanting and bewitching novel touching on the dangerousness of ideology and of demagogues feeding the public their hate manifesto and propaganda. Nothing short of breathtaking, I adored the rich yet oppressive atmosphere and the author’s celebration of the stunning and untameable natural landscape of the setting of 1620s Lancashire and the vivid portrait she paints of the surrounding scenery where she immerses you in the ‘wild’ of the woods, forests and nearby countryside. Elizabeth Lee is a rare talent; I simply cannot wait to read her upcoming offerings. Highly recommended.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Vicki Antipodean Bookclub

    “Observe your womenfolk for wantonness above their usual failing, watch for the meeting of covens without a man to give spiritual strength. You must keep an attentive eye for secret knowledge of herbuse, the mark of the Devil upon the skin, for these are the signs of Wickedness” . . . 1620 in Lancashire, only 8 years after the infamous Pendle witch trials. Sarah, her mother, little sister Annie and brother John, have taken over one of the stone dwellings on the hill left empty by plague. Made poor b “Observe your womenfolk for wantonness above their usual failing, watch for the meeting of covens without a man to give spiritual strength. You must keep an attentive eye for secret knowledge of herbuse, the mark of the Devil upon the skin, for these are the signs of Wickedness” . . . 1620 in Lancashire, only 8 years after the infamous Pendle witch trials. Sarah, her mother, little sister Annie and brother John, have taken over one of the stone dwellings on the hill left empty by plague. Made poor by the death of their fisherman father in a storm, their mother has made ends meet in whatever ways she could. Alongside her hare familiar, Dew-springer, she now makes potions and charms for the villagers although her intentions can also be turned towards hurt and harm. Although the locals use Mam’s powers, they mistrust her and are afraid of her family. The “Haworth Hag” and her brood are the first to be blamed for any misfortune or thievery, a rift the new magistrate is keen to turn to his advantage Secretly marked as a witch, Sarah has an opportunity to change her life and support her family thanks to Daniel, the son of a local farmer. Their fledgling relationship blossoms, but has to remain hidden in the face of parental disapproval and increasing unrest in the village stoked by Magistrate Wright; hanger of papists and discoverer of witches Star-crossed lovers indeed. I had to read this one in increasingly shorter bursts as I came to care for Sarah and Daniel. Their fragile hope in the face of everything that conspired against them was hard to witness and was a counterpoint to the greed, lust and envy of the people around them. Elizabeth Lee did a fabulous job of weaving together the two narrative viewpoints whilst continuously ratcheting up the tension. There was also enough detail about the historical setting and the secondary characters to create a richness to the story that I enjoyed, particularly around the uses of herbs and superstitions of the time. A fantastic debut novel and if you enjoyed The Mercies or The Familiars you may well love this one too Huge thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for my ARC

  12. 4 out of 5

    Tina

    Much Ado About nothing, without any fun and humour. I did briefly feel that something might happen, but it didn’t.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Terri-Jane

    I absolutely raced through this; it grabbed me from the very start. I loved how easily fleshed out the characters were, right from the off - Daniel wanting to carry the milk pail out in front of him and being mocked seemed such a simple idea, but really fed into how he sees himself and how he's seen by others, making his later boldness more surprising (for them, but not for the reader). Would definitely recommend this if you enjoyed The Mercies, or Witches of New York. I absolutely raced through this; it grabbed me from the very start. I loved how easily fleshed out the characters were, right from the off - Daniel wanting to carry the milk pail out in front of him and being mocked seemed such a simple idea, but really fed into how he sees himself and how he's seen by others, making his later boldness more surprising (for them, but not for the reader). Would definitely recommend this if you enjoyed The Mercies, or Witches of New York.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Rachel Hall

    Elizabeth Lee’s debut novel is a stunningly atmospheric exploration of the lives of the Haworth family in 1620s Lancashire, where the events of the Pendle Witch Trials are still fresh in the memory of the local community. Sarah Haworth, her widowed mother, brother and younger sister, Annie, live just outside of the fishing village they were once part of, in a hamlet left abandoned since the plague. The death of Sarah’s fisherman father left them destitute and with mother, Ruth, considered to be Elizabeth Lee’s debut novel is a stunningly atmospheric exploration of the lives of the Haworth family in 1620s Lancashire, where the events of the Pendle Witch Trials are still fresh in the memory of the local community. Sarah Haworth, her widowed mother, brother and younger sister, Annie, live just outside of the fishing village they were once part of, in a hamlet left abandoned since the plague. The death of Sarah’s fisherman father left them destitute and with mother, Ruth, considered to be “cunning” (a euphemism for witches) they eke out a meagre existence alongside a community that by turns shuns them for their wickedness and then seeks them out under cover of darkness for healing remedies and potions. A red mark reveals that Sarah, like her mother, is a witch and her only hope lies in younger sister, Annie, being spared and maintaining a peaceful existence alongside a community that barely tolerates them. When Sarah is witness to an unassuming young man who later reveals himself to be farmer’s son, Daniel Taylor, soothing a horse, it is the beginning of a tentative friendship that slowly blossoms into romance. Daniel sees past Sarah’s dirty and unkempt appearance and the malicious talk of the villagers, and Sarah sees in him his true potential and the strength to stand up and be counted. Both know that as things stand marriage is out of the question, with Daniel’s father resentful of Ruth, and Sarah’s brother, ‘Devil-boy’ John, thieving and further raising suspicions when his angry victims fall prey to misfortunes and maladies. Whilst Daniel has integrity and compassion many of the villagers do not, most notably aggressive farmhand and bully, Gabriel, who holds a fierce grudge against Sarah and is determined to exact revenge. When a change of magistrate brings a rigorous zealot determined to root out evil to the village, his actions inflame the community and threaten to reveal the superficiality of their godly veneer, causing them to turn on the obvious common enemy. Vividly drawn with rich, descriptive prose and narrated partly by Sarah in the first-person and from Daniel’s third-person perspective, the characterisation is extraordinarily good and I was invested in not only the romance, but the fate of the entire Haworth clan from the off. Essentially a tale of persecution with a potent message about societies intolerance to difference, it is an emotive story with an ending, unexpected and unpredictable as it was, that proved impeccable. Cunning Women is a haunting novel full of characters who will live long in my memory and a story of a precarious love affair threatened by outside forces that bristles with tension. A fantastic debut.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Faichney

    I was completely engrossed in this book and read it in a day. Elizabeth Lee's "Cunning Women" is a searing debut about small minds, suspicion and duty, all bound up in a heart-wrenching love story. It's a tale of finding the courage to do what is right. Set in a post-plague village in the aftermath of the Pendle witch trials, we see a family bereaved, living in extreme poverty and doing what they can to survive whilst ostracised by their community. Lee's prose is haunting and evocative. Parts of I was completely engrossed in this book and read it in a day. Elizabeth Lee's "Cunning Women" is a searing debut about small minds, suspicion and duty, all bound up in a heart-wrenching love story. It's a tale of finding the courage to do what is right. Set in a post-plague village in the aftermath of the Pendle witch trials, we see a family bereaved, living in extreme poverty and doing what they can to survive whilst ostracised by their community. Lee's prose is haunting and evocative. Parts of the story, and the characters' fates, broke my heart. Great read! 

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jade aka MrsTosh

    Having been born and bred in Lancaster where the Lancashire Witch Trials took place, any book that mentions the Pendle witches always gets my attention. In 1620's Lancashire, King James's 'Demonology' is being use to make formal accusations against the practice of witchcraft and his hatred of papists. In a small fishing community in Lancashire, the Hawthorns live in poverty after their main breadwinner is killed at sea. Shun by the god-fearing community Sarah, her Mother, her brother and little Having been born and bred in Lancaster where the Lancashire Witch Trials took place, any book that mentions the Pendle witches always gets my attention. In 1620's Lancashire, King James's 'Demonology' is being use to make formal accusations against the practice of witchcraft and his hatred of papists. In a small fishing community in Lancashire, the Hawthorns live in poverty after their main breadwinner is killed at sea. Shun by the god-fearing community Sarah, her Mother, her brother and little sister survive by begging, foraging what they can from the forest and by selling their salves and poultices. Sarah meets Daniel, a local farmer and dreams of being married to him and escaping the life she is destined for staying with her Mother. As they both have witches marks on their skin and she can feel the darkness rising within. When a new magistrate arrives in the village hatred for the family intensifies, and neighbours turn on them and each other to save themselves. Let me start by saying, I love the cover for this book, it is so beautiful. I believe this is the first book written by Elizabeth Lee and I am sure it won't be the last. I enjoyed the book, I just didn't love it. I found the pace to be quite slow and I would have liked a little more magic and description about the time period. Thank you to Netgalley and Random House UK, Cornerstone for the advanced copy of this book for an honest review. Expected publication: April 22nd 2021

  17. 4 out of 5

    Gemma

    This is such a well constructed, moving, unpredictable and immersive story that I raced through it and didn't want to put it down. The importance of family is portrayed so beautifully and the protagonist's struggle to find a better life for herself while remaining loyal to her mother and siblings was handled really well. Living on the outskirts of a community, in a village that has been deserted due to plague, Sarah is an outsider in every sense of the word. Shunned by the local community, Sara This is such a well constructed, moving, unpredictable and immersive story that I raced through it and didn't want to put it down. The importance of family is portrayed so beautifully and the protagonist's struggle to find a better life for herself while remaining loyal to her mother and siblings was handled really well. Living on the outskirts of a community, in a village that has been deserted due to plague, Sarah is an outsider in every sense of the word. Shunned by the local community, Sarah and her family are feared to be witches yet sought out by some for the healing properties of the herbs and balms they cultivate. The various members of the community, from the local pastor to the village farmer's family, were all well developed and really brought the setting to life. The story had so many elements that I enjoyed, from the romance between Sarah and Daniel, the farmer's son, to the menacing presence of the villain of the story and the dark yet fascinating exploration of a community's collective fear and judgement aimed at Sarah's family. There were more magical elements to the story which were balanced just right and could be interpreted in many ways so these were used cleverly in the plot too. Overall, a brilliant and well written story and for a debut novel I am really impressed. Thank you to Netgalley and Random House UK for the ARC.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Demelda Penkitty

    Seventeenth-century Lancashire is a dark and mistrustful place. Ten years after the notorious Pendle witch trials saw ten accused witches hanged, young Sarah Haworth and her family live as outcasts in a ruined hamlet. The inhabitants of the nearby village despise 'cunning folk' like them, but their services - healing balms, herbal remedies - will always be in demand, and they have a way of coming to know all the village's secrets. Cunning Women is beautiful to read and the cover stunning to look Seventeenth-century Lancashire is a dark and mistrustful place. Ten years after the notorious Pendle witch trials saw ten accused witches hanged, young Sarah Haworth and her family live as outcasts in a ruined hamlet. The inhabitants of the nearby village despise 'cunning folk' like them, but their services - healing balms, herbal remedies - will always be in demand, and they have a way of coming to know all the village's secrets. Cunning Women is beautiful to read and the cover stunning to look at. What I liked most about this book was the origional and fresh voice of Sarah, who narrates her chapters in the first person narrative. In her mid teens, Sarah has experienced so much of the harshness of life already. Hunger and fear are everyday visitors to her and her family, with her mother relying on her healing powers and charms, her younger sister who she adores and brother Jack, who can’t get work because of who he is. This is a slow-burning but thoroughly mesmerising read and the story brims with menace and chill as we expect the worst for the Haworth family. Cunning Women is a book that will stay with me for some time. Elizabeth Lee captures the essence of this period so very well, where there is still a fear of the unknown and misunderstood, and where communities close ranks on those they see as outsiders. With dark yet beautiful prose, underpinned with tension, this really is a bewitching debut read.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Becca (Horners_book_corner)

    Cunning Women by @ekleewriter is perfect for anyone looking for a historic based, dark and haunting tale, with themes around women's rights, prejudice and family bonds. I devoured this powerfully atmospheric book in a day and was thoroughly devastated at the end. The writing is beautifully sad and the tension conjures real fear. It's impossible not to be truly feeling for Sarah, Annie and Daniel by the end. The saddest thing, is that I can imagine this being a true tale for many women in this ti Cunning Women by @ekleewriter is perfect for anyone looking for a historic based, dark and haunting tale, with themes around women's rights, prejudice and family bonds. I devoured this powerfully atmospheric book in a day and was thoroughly devastated at the end. The writing is beautifully sad and the tension conjures real fear. It's impossible not to be truly feeling for Sarah, Annie and Daniel by the end. The saddest thing, is that I can imagine this being a true tale for many women in this time period (minus the slightly terrifying familiars). Books like this, books that highlight the way women have been, and continue to be, vilified for their strength and skill, are so relevant right now and are so needed. I am so happy to be a part of the book tour for this gorgeous but bittersweet book. Thank you to Windmill Books for sending me a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review and my participation in the tour.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Connie

    Set in 1620, this is a powerful story of a family living in poverty on the outskirts of a God - fearing community, where superstition is rife. Daniel is a farmer's son who has fallen for Sarah - the cunning woman's daughter. Is it real love or has Daniel been bewitched? This is a well constructed story, but I found it a bit slow. Thank you to Netgalley and Publisher for the ARC. Set in 1620, this is a powerful story of a family living in poverty on the outskirts of a God - fearing community, where superstition is rife. Daniel is a farmer's son who has fallen for Sarah - the cunning woman's daughter. Is it real love or has Daniel been bewitched? This is a well constructed story, but I found it a bit slow. Thank you to Netgalley and Publisher for the ARC.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Wendy Robey

    A wonderful historical fiction story full of witches, fear, love and family - this is just brilliant. It’s such a dark and gripping story of prejudice and intolerance and my heart broke for Sarah time and time again. Her internal battles were as emotional as those to keep her family safe in an ever increasing hostile village. I loved how she was able to open up a little to those who trusted her and show love.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Ellie ↟

    Set in 16th century Lancashire, Cunning Women is a tale of witchcraft, love and prejudice. We follow the story of Sarah, who like her mother is a witch. Her family has been kept on the outskirts of the village as outcasts due to their skills in what is seen as sorcery. However, when Sarah meets Daniel, a farmer's son from the village, she begins to see a better future take shape until the arrival of a new magistrate brings a dark cloud over her and her family. I had high hopes for this book but Set in 16th century Lancashire, Cunning Women is a tale of witchcraft, love and prejudice. We follow the story of Sarah, who like her mother is a witch. Her family has been kept on the outskirts of the village as outcasts due to their skills in what is seen as sorcery. However, when Sarah meets Daniel, a farmer's son from the village, she begins to see a better future take shape until the arrival of a new magistrate brings a dark cloud over her and her family. I had high hopes for this book but it really fell short. I was so excited to read from this novels setting of rural Lancashire and experience this period in history but this is one of the main features I felt was lacking. With little description of the surroundings I felt it very hard to picture the location that this story took place. There was never a feeling of atmosphere to give you that feeling of really stepping into this tine period that you should feel when reading a historical fiction. My other major issue with this book was the plot in general. The romance within this novel which is the main driving force of the story was very weak. I have a very strong dislike for "insta love" wihtin books and this was a text book example of it. After only one meeting these characters were ready to marry each other and declare undying love. It left me just unable to feel invested in there supposed love when it was so unrealistically portrayed, so without feeling invested I never felt very emotionally connected to the characters and cared for their predicaments. There was also a ridiculously unrealistic part of this book where the main characters basically goes undercover by just wearing nicer clothes and somehow that means she becomes unrecognisable to everyone who knew her before which was just so silly I lost all commitment to the narrative. Overall this was just a major disappointment. The blurb for this book holds a lot of promise but what is actually within this books pages is a bland story with forgettable characters and a very lack lustre plot.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Lulu

    I recently watched a film called ‘The Reckoning’, about a young girl who is a witch in a village at the time of the witch trials. This book really reminded me of the film, in a good way! Sarah and her family are outcasts and have been accused by villagers of being witches. It’s not an empty accusation - Sarah’s mother is a herbal healer but isn’t adverse to the occasions cursing either. Sarah has the ‘mark’ and knows that if anyone sees it she could be hanged as a witch, another reason for her to I recently watched a film called ‘The Reckoning’, about a young girl who is a witch in a village at the time of the witch trials. This book really reminded me of the film, in a good way! Sarah and her family are outcasts and have been accused by villagers of being witches. It’s not an empty accusation - Sarah’s mother is a herbal healer but isn’t adverse to the occasions cursing either. Sarah has the ‘mark’ and knows that if anyone sees it she could be hanged as a witch, another reason for her to keep her distance from the villagers. Then she meets Daniel, a local lad, and things get very complicated! The story had quite a slow start and at first I wasn’t sure I was going to enjoy it, but once I got into it I really enjoyed it. I can imagine it being quite a good film too! Recommend for fans of movies like The Witch and The Reckoning and books/plays like The Crucible and Age of Witches.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Shelleyrae at Book'd Out

    “Observe your womenfolk for wantonness above their usual failing, watch for the meeting of covens without a man to give spiritual strength. You must keep an attentive eye for secret knowledge of herbuse, the mark of the Devil upon the skin, for these are the signs of Wickedness” Set in Lancashire, England during the 1620’s, Cunning Women is a debut historical fiction novel of love, loss, superstition and fate from Elizabeth Lee. Sarah Haworth remembers a time before her father was swallowed by the “Observe your womenfolk for wantonness above their usual failing, watch for the meeting of covens without a man to give spiritual strength. You must keep an attentive eye for secret knowledge of herbuse, the mark of the Devil upon the skin, for these are the signs of Wickedness” Set in Lancashire, England during the 1620’s, Cunning Women is a debut historical fiction novel of love, loss, superstition and fate from Elizabeth Lee. Sarah Haworth remembers a time before her father was swallowed by the sea, when her mother was looked upon kindly by her neighbours, and sought out for her healing tinctures and potions, but now, each morning, Sarah wakes and frantically searches her younger sister’s body for a sign that the devil has marked her as a witch during the night, as she and her mother are marked by the red stains on their skin. Sarah’s greatest wish is that Annie be spared her own inevitable fate, and one day escape their tiny, derelict home on Plague hill to lead a normal life, like the villagers below who shun them. During the reign of King James, a cunning woman, one with knowledge of cures and medicines, as well as charms and curses, was condemned as a witch, though in small villages, they were still often secretly called upon for aid. Lee sets her story amongst this climate of fear and superstition, in which Ruth Haworth, left destitute and vulnerable by her husband’s death, attempts to eke out a living for herself and her three children. When she was twelve, Sarah learnt from her mother that she too is a cunning woman and as such an ordinary life as a wife and a mother is not hers to have. It’s a destiny Sarah does not want, actively rejecting her mother’s lessons, focusing on the wellbeing of Annie, the sister gifted to them by the woods. Sarah is a sympathetic character, barely fourteen her life is one of deprivation and humiliation, yet she clings tightly to a slender thread of hope that things can change. Lee introduces romance into the story when Sarah encounters the local farmers son. Daniel is inexplicably drawn to Sarah despite the Haworth’s reputation, and the grudge held against her family by his father. I think Lee develops the relationship quite well within the demands of the story. As love blooms between the couple, Sarah begins to imagine that a new life is with her grasp, until tragedy threatens to rip it away. It takes a little while for the narrative to gain momentum, but suspense is woven into several threads, and when one snaps it increases the tension among the others. There were a few elements in the plot that I didn’t expect, and the ending was somewhat of a surprise too. I’ve read a few books set in this period with similar themes recently, and I think this story compares well. Cunning Women is a bewitching and atmospheric tale.

  25. 5 out of 5

    tinalouisereadsbooks

    1620, Lancashire Sarah Haworth lives with her mother, brother John and sister Annie in a small hamlet abandoned since the plague. Sarah's mother makes potions and cures and is known as a cunning woman. Fear for the family is always not far away as they have to take care as they can be accused of witchcraft. Daniel is a farmer's son who meets Sarah and they both know that their relationship cannot be. I really enjoyed this book. The story followed Sarah and Daniel and what happens to them both. Wha 1620, Lancashire Sarah Haworth lives with her mother, brother John and sister Annie in a small hamlet abandoned since the plague. Sarah's mother makes potions and cures and is known as a cunning woman. Fear for the family is always not far away as they have to take care as they can be accused of witchcraft. Daniel is a farmer's son who meets Sarah and they both know that their relationship cannot be. I really enjoyed this book. The story followed Sarah and Daniel and what happens to them both. What I enjoyed was following Sarah and her family trying to survive in turbulent times. The village with it's superstitions and how they shun a poor family. Then Daniel comes into the mix and there is a romance plodding along through the story. The first half of the book sets the scene, introducing the characters, the good and the bad. When I knew there was going to be a romance I just hoped that it wouldn't spoil the story too much. I felt the second half of the book was the best as this is when the story starts to speed up and becomes very interesting. I was really invested in the characters and wanted that happy ending for them. The story is dark in places and doesn't lose the witchcraft theme, the romance isn't too much as to take away for me what the story is about. The book reminded me and gave me the feel of Philippa Gregory before she went onto to her Tudor books. Really enjoyed this book.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Abbie

    It's 1620 England, Sarah and her family are banished to live on top of the hill of a tiny village. The villagers are scared of the family's 'cunning' abilities. One day Sarah meets Daniel and both their lives are changed. As they start to develop feelings for each other, they are desperate for acceptance, but will they find happiness before the village turns on Sarah's family completely? Okay, so I definitely had mixed feelings on this. I enjoyed this from a romance point of view and was definite It's 1620 England, Sarah and her family are banished to live on top of the hill of a tiny village. The villagers are scared of the family's 'cunning' abilities. One day Sarah meets Daniel and both their lives are changed. As they start to develop feelings for each other, they are desperate for acceptance, but will they find happiness before the village turns on Sarah's family completely? Okay, so I definitely had mixed feelings on this. I enjoyed this from a romance point of view and was definitely rooting for Daniel and Sarah. That being said, I was expecting more from the witch side of the plot. This was never really explored. This is very slow paced, but the second half and ending I really enjoyed. Also, I hope Gabriel burns eternally in hell 😊 Thank you to Netgalley and Random House UK for providing me with a copy to review.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Sue Frances

    I can't begin to express how much I have enjoyed this book. It constantly filled my mind and I have even dreamt of it. I love reading about herb healers and wild women. One of my top reads of 2021. I can't begin to express how much I have enjoyed this book. It constantly filled my mind and I have even dreamt of it. I love reading about herb healers and wild women. One of my top reads of 2021.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Cristina

    3.5 stars

  29. 5 out of 5

    Maisie

    [2.5] this book fell short on many levels for me. i was enticed at the thought of a book about witches in the 1600s, excited for some descriptive prose and magical writing. unfortunately, this book is more of an instant-yet-forbidden love story between a witch-girl (cunning woman) and the son of the only farmer in town. the characters are pretty flat and uninteresting and the chapters are so short that it is hard to find any common ground with them. the twists predictable, and the lovers' affect [2.5] this book fell short on many levels for me. i was enticed at the thought of a book about witches in the 1600s, excited for some descriptive prose and magical writing. unfortunately, this book is more of an instant-yet-forbidden love story between a witch-girl (cunning woman) and the son of the only farmer in town. the characters are pretty flat and uninteresting and the chapters are so short that it is hard to find any common ground with them. the twists predictable, and the lovers' affection for each other is transparent and implausible. the writing is sometimes a little convoluted, too. i realise that the author is trying to portray olde-timey dialogue, but on several occasions i had to read a sentence several times before understanding its meaning. the book does have strong points: the slow reveal of past events keeps things relatively intriguing, if unsurprising once revealed. the descriptive writing is nice when describing senses, particularly the scents of strong herbal remedies that are commonplace to the family, but unfamiliar to us. it'd have been nice to see more imagery of the surrounding areas, which could have been strong in this writer's style. ☹️ i hate leaving negative reviews, but i've committed to reviewing all of my reads this year and this one just didn't capture me as i'd hoped. * proof copy

  30. 4 out of 5

    Rosie Amber

    3.5 stars Cunning Women is an historical story set in Lancashire, England during 1620. The story revolves around a family known for their witchcraft; they live outside the main village in a house left abandoned after the plague. Some of the villagers go to them for medicinal help, but mostly they are feared and few will openly help by giving food or offering work. Daniel is the son of a farmer, a gentle soul who befriends Sarah, the teenage daughter of the aforementioned family. However, when a ne 3.5 stars Cunning Women is an historical story set in Lancashire, England during 1620. The story revolves around a family known for their witchcraft; they live outside the main village in a house left abandoned after the plague. Some of the villagers go to them for medicinal help, but mostly they are feared and few will openly help by giving food or offering work. Daniel is the son of a farmer, a gentle soul who befriends Sarah, the teenage daughter of the aforementioned family. However, when a new magistrate moves to the area, the man’s determination to purge the village of Papists and witchcraft can only mean trouble for Sarah and her family. I liked the premise of this story, but I found it rather slow and predictable after the opening chapters, which was a shame. It was still a solid story, it just didn’t draw me in as much as I had hoped.

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