Title: Witch Finder
Author: Ruth Warburton
Published: 2nd Jan 2014
By: Hodder Children's Books
Synopsis: London. 1880. In the slums of Spitalfields apprentice blacksmith Luke is facing initiation into the Malleus Maleficorum, the fearsome brotherhood dedicated to hunting and killing witches.
Luke’s final test is to pick a name at random from the Book of Witches, a name he must track down and kill within a month, or face death himself. Luke knows that tonight will change his life forever. But when he picks out sixteen-year-old Rosa Greenwood, Luke has no idea that his task will be harder than he could ever imagine.
There seems to be a slew of books about witches at the moment. Maybe they're the new vampires. In any case it seems as though if you're going to do witches you've got some pretty stiff competition. I have three such books on the go at the moment and I'm pleased to say that this one did stick in my mind. I have to say though I also have a soft spot for a period drama so this book ticked more than one box before I even began reading.
Set in the late 1800s this story follows the lives of Rosa and Luke. Rosa Greenwood is part of a family in dire straits. Following the death of her father her family is pretty much about to find themselves on the streets and it seems as though he only way to avoid this is by her marrying Sebastian Knyvet, a member of the highly lauded Knyvet family whose powers are far greater than the Greenwoods. Luke Lexton is part of a witch hunting family. Whilst on the surface they may be poorer than the Greenwoods they are richer in many ways. Luke at least gets to experience familial affection, something which is non-existent in the Greenwood household which consists of an overbearing mother, a brutal brother who has assumed the role of head of the household and a sister who it felt to me was relatively ineffectual.
In order to become part of the brotherhood Luke is required to complete three tasks. The first two, physical in nature he completes fairly easily. The last is to kill a witch. He selects Rosa, a choice which worries his uncle, not least because of the Rosewood's connections to the Knyvets but Luke stays by his choice, knowing that once he has joined the clan he can go after The Black Witch, the one who destroyed his family. What he doesn't anticipate of course is that he might grow to like and actually love the person he is supposed to destroy.
I liked this story. The background to Victorian England was well detailed, including all the brutality of a patriarchal society and the limited role that women were supposed to play in that era, whether they had witchy skills or not. What's nice is how Rosa fights against the norm and this starts to show through her actions as you delve further into the book. She knows how to play the game and she does it well even though she allows her heart to make some dumb decisions at times. Watching Luke challenge his own preconceptions about witches makes for interesting reading too. There are times when his behaviour contradicts his actions so drastically I'm not surprised that he manages to confuse himself! I did love the darker characters in this book, although they are more brutal than dark with their powers really taking a backseat and I'm hoping that we'll get to see them more in future instalments. That applies to Rosa as well, although I understand why she wasn't allowed to really let her abilities shine in this book.
The ending is pretty action packed but at the same time is also rather abrupt. As this is a series I would have anticipated that there would be some indication as to what might happen next, or what the goals were of the main protagonists, whether they be the goodies or the baddies. In that, we were kind of left in the dark a bit. I am though, looking forward to finding out what happens next.
3.5/5 A promising start to a new series!