Sunday, 7 April 2019

Her Kind, by Niamh Boyce, Penguin Ireland (2019)



Her eagerly awaited new novel from the award-winning author of No 1 bestseller, The Herbalist ('The most entertaining yet substantial historical novel since Joseph O'Connor's Star of the SeaIrish Times)
1324, Kilkennie
A woman seeks refuge for herself and her daughter in the household of a childhood friend.
The friend, Alice Kytler, gives her former companion a new name, Petronelle, a job as a servant, and warns her to hide their old connection.
In the months that follow Petronelle learns that in the city pride, greed and envy are as dangerous as the wolves that prowl the savage countryside. And she realizes that Alice's household is no place of safety.
Once again, Petronelle decides to flee with her daughter. But this time she confronts forces greater than she could ever have imagined and she finds herself fighting for more than her freedom ...
Inspired by a true story, Her Kind is a tense, moving and atmospheric re-imagining of the events leading up to the Kilkenny Witch Trial of 1324.

'Shines a light on women who have been silenced. This tightly paced novel confirms Boyce as an important voice in Irish literature' Louise O'Neill
'The plot is pacey and menacing, and the writing is clear, sharp and studded with glistening phrases ...a wonderful shout through time' Nuala O'Connor
'Pulls us into a world both seductively alien, yet uneasily, all-too-humanly, familiar' Mia Gallagher
'Niamh Boyce has taken a bleak and dismal period and sent a bolt of beautiful and revealing light into the darkness' John MacKenna
'Moving and atmospheric' Irish Country Magazine

Review

The Kilkenny Witch Trial of 1324 and the story Alice Kytler and her maidservant Petronelle  was a slice of Irish history of which I had no previous knowledge. My graduate studies were centred on the 1500's to the the twentieth century but this book has really inspired me to learn more about our medieval past.

I found it fascinating that a woman like Alice could be so successful and powerful in her time. She was married four times, was a moneylender and held considerable wealth. Was she typical for her time? How many other women had such powerful roles in medieval Ireland?
Unfortunately it was inevitable that the Catholic Church's 'Empire of Misogyny'  would clash with women like Alice in Irish society.

The story opens with one of the final scenes in the book. The story then jumps back to the events that led to the witch trial. It is told through the voices of three different characters- Alice, Petronelle, and her daughter Basilia. The character I had most sympathy with was Petronelle. She had a very interesting and mysterious background and her main concern was to protect her daughter. 
Alice Kytler on the other hand was self serving and opportunistic.

There is a general feeling of doom all the way through this book. The combination of religious zealousness, superstition and jealousy made for a powder keg ready to explode.

The author does a great job of combining historical fact with fictional embellishments and it makes for one riveting and thought provoking tale; one I won't easily forget and will put aside to read again.


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