It’s rare that I reblog a previous review, but I was so impressed by Helen Steadman’s writing that when Anne Cater of Random Things Tours invited me to participate in this blog tour for Helen’s Widdershins Series I had to take part. I loved both Sunwise and Widdershins and am delighted to reshare my reviews today. I’m lucky enough to have Helen’s The Running Wolf on my TBR too. However, let me tell you about the Widdershins Series:
The Widdershins Series
Jane Chandler is learning the art of healing while John Sharpe wants to rid the world of witchcraft. In an English town gripped by superstition and fear, two destinies collide in these absorbing historical novels based on true events.
‘DID ALL WOMEN HAVE SOMETHING OF THE WITCH ABOUT THEM?’
England, 1649. A sadistic witch hunter. An apprentice healer accused of witchcraft. Can she escape the hangman’s noose?
When John’s parents die at the hands of a witch, he faces a choice: an easy life with a woman who serves Satan, or a hard life with a preacher who serves God. The cursed orphan chooses the church. Raised on raging sermons, he discovers his true purpose: to become a witchfinder and save virtuous souls from the jaws of hell.
In a town mesmerized by superstition and fear, two destinies collide. As John rounds up the local witches, Jane gets more than she bargained for when bartering with the apothecary. Instead of trading herbal remedies, she finds herself on trial for consorting with the devil. Can she prove her innocence, or will she be condemned to death?
If you like historical novels based on real witch trials, you’ll love Helen Steadman’s Widdershins and its sequel, Sunwise.
Buy Widdershins here to find out whether good triumphs over evil.
Recommended for fans of The Familiars, Tidelands and The Witchfinder’s Sister.
‘There is a madness come upon England of late.’
England, 1650. A sadistic witch hunter. An innocent healer and her child accused of witchcraft. Can they escape the hangman’s noose?
Filled with vengeance, John will stop at nothing in his sworn mission to free the world from the scourge of witchcraft. When his quest to vanquish evil is thwarted by Jane, he decrees that she must die.
After defeating the witchfinder, Jane must continue her dangerous healing work. Alone in a hostile and superstitious village, she struggles to keep her little girl alive.
Determined to keep his vow, the witchfinder must put mother and daughter to death. When John brings the witch hunt to Jane’s home, can she save herself and her child from certain slaughter?
If you like historical novels based on real witch trials, you’ll love Helen Steadman’s Sunwise, the sequel to Widdershins.
Buy Sunwise here to find out whether good triumphs over evil.
Recommended for fans of The Familiars, Tidelands and The Witchfinder’s Sister.
My Review of Widdershins
Jane learns the ways of natural healing from her mother. John is an orphan affected by his bad luck. Each is a product of their time.
Widdershins is absolutely brilliant. Read it.
I’m not sure I can bring myself to say anything else, so wonderful was this story, but I’ll try.
Set in the mid seventeenth century, Widdershins paints the most vivid and disturbing portrait of the times. Helen Steadman shows humanity (or frequently the lack of it) nature, superstition, the church and authority, relationships and life at all levels in a totally absorbing and disturbing read. On occasion I could hardly bear to continue and I kept stopping to put down the book and recover my composure before I read the next part so enraged was I by the attitudes displayed. I had a good idea intellectually about the era and how women were treated, but I’ve never experienced that knowledge so viscerally and emotionally as I did when reading Widdershins.
The characters of Meg, John, Jane, Tom, Annie et al were described so wonderfully through their speech and actions that they came alive as I read. I utterly loathed John but understood him completely so that alongside my hatred, Helen Steadman made me feel sorry for him too. That is masterful writing. I don’t want to reveal any of the plot for fear of spoiling the read for others but there were elements in Jane’s story that had me exclaiming aloud and giving her advice until my husband thought I’d gone quite crazy.
Widdershins is inspired by actual events but this is no dry retelling of our history. Helen Steadman is as much a witch in her spellbinding ability to enthral the reader as any of those in the story. I’m not usually overly fond of dual narratives but the stories of Jane and John absorbed me entirely and as their lives began to converge my heart genuinely thumped louder. Widdershins is historical fiction at its best, but it’s also a roller coaster read of emotion and thrills too.
I really like the way Widdershins is divided into three sections, perhaps representing the superstitious number three and its significance in the holy trinity and folklore that underpin the story.
However, an aspect that I think really took Widdershins from a very good read to an outstanding one for me was the overall quality of the prose. There’s a cracking plot, historical accuracy, naturalistic dialogue befitting the era and wonderful characterisation, but best of all is the beauty and rawness of the language. The natural descriptions took me back to my childhood and I felt there wasn’t a word out of place. I was there with Jane picking elder flowers for example.
Initially I wasn’t especially looking forward to reading Widdershins as I thought it might be dry and ‘worthy’. Instead I discovered a vivid and dynamic story that transported me back in time it and cannot recommend Widdershins highly enough.
My Review of Sunwise
Witch finder John Sharpe is back to rid the world of his perceived evil.
Having so enjoyed the fabulous Widdershins by Helen Steadman, I knew I was in for a treat with Sunwise and I wasn’t disappointed. There’s a glorious and frequently harrowing intensity to Helen Steadman’s narrative style, coupled with a vibrant historical accuracy that hypnotises the reader and transports them to a world of superstition, tradition, religion and persecution. I cannot begin to express just how authentically accurate Sunwise is, or to comprehend the level of diligence and research that must have gone in to its creation. This is a marvelous example of historical fiction.
I thought the plotting of the novel, with alternate chapters given to John Sharpe and Jane Driver exemplified perfectly the balance of good and evil, religion and superstition, women and men. Sunwise presents a seventeenth century world as vividly as if the reader is experiencing it first hand and yet with themes that are as fresh and relevant to today’s century – from abuse to corruption, greed to love. It’s impossible not to be drawn into the events because of the fabulous quality of Helen Steadman’s writing.
The fervour of John’s obsessive religious viciousness is thoroughly terrifying, and he’s a character I could hardly bear to read whilst simultaneously being unable to avert my eyes. He brought out the very worst in my personality and I wished him personal pain and suffering with a passion that made me feel quite uncomfortable.
Conversely, Jane enhanced all that is good and positive in the face of adversity. I desperately wanted her to have a happy ending and you’ll have to read the book yourself to find out if my wishes were fulfilled!
If you love historical fiction that is authentic, fascinating and compelling with characters that thrum with life then look no further than Sunwise. Helen Steadman has established herself as a brilliant writer with the power to be as spellbinding as any of the witches John Sharpe is hunting. I thought Sunwise was brilliant and connot recommend it highly enough.
About Helen Steadman
Dr Helen Steadman is a historical novelist. Her first novel, Widdershins and its sequel, Sunwise were inspired by the seventeenth-century Newcastle witch trials. Her third novel, The Running Wolf was inspired by the Shotley Bridge swordmakers, who defected from Solingen, Germany in 1687. Helen’s fourth novel is God of Fire, a Greek myth retelling about Hephaestus, possibly the least well-known of the Olympians. Helen is now working on her fifth novel.
Despite the Newcastle witch trials being one of the largest mass executions of witches on a single day in England, they are not widely known about. Helen is particularly interested in revealing hidden histories and she is a thorough researcher who goes to great lengths in pursuit of historical accuracy. To get under the skin of the cunning women in Widdershins and Sunwise, Helen trained in herbalism and learned how to identify, grow and harvest plants and then made herbal medicines from bark, seeds, flowers and berries.
The Running Wolf is the story of a group of master swordmakers who defected from Solingen, Germany and moved to Shotley Bridge, England in 1687. As well as carrying out in-depth archive research and visiting forges in Solingen to bring her story to life, Helen also undertook blacksmith training, which culminated in making her own sword. During her archive research, Helen uncovered a lot of new material and she published her findings in the Northern History journal.