The Witch of Willow Hall
by Hester Fox
Genre: Historical Fiction, Paranormal
Length: 368 Pages
Release date: October 2, 2018
Publisher: Graydon House
Two centuries after the Salem witch trials, there’s still one witch left in Massachusetts. But she doesn’t even know it.
Take this as a warning: if you are not able or willing to control yourself, it will not only be you who suffers the consequences, but those around you, as well.
New Oldbury, 1821
In the wake of a scandal, the Montrose family and their three daughters—Catherine, Lydia and Emeline—flee Boston for their new country home, Willow Hall.
The estate seems sleepy and idyllic. But a subtle menace creeps into the atmosphere, remnants of a dark history that call to Lydia, and to the youngest, Emeline.
All three daughters will be irrevocably changed by what follows, but none more than Lydia, who must draw on a power she never knew she possessed if she wants to protect those she loves. For Willow Hall’s secrets will rise, in the end…
My thanks to Netgalley and Graydon House for sending me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and are not influenced by the publisher.
I was excited to get into this book, and while I enjoyed it overall, the reading experience was a bit underwhelming at times. Let me start with a nit-picky gripe about the cover: this takes place in 1821, roughly 130 years after the Salem witch trials, but the cover says, “Two centuries after the Salem witch trials, there’s still one witch in Massachusetts, but she doesn’t even know it.” Hopefully the cover is corrected on the final copy, but that seems like a rather strange error and left me feeling a bit apprehensive about the research which went into the historical period.
Lydia develops a romance with a Mr. John Barrett after the family moves into Willow Hall. This is down to personal taste and I know there are readers who won’t mind this, but the romance is a bit too “love at first sight,” which is somehow harder to buy than the witchcraft. I was also a bit put off by the fact that Lydia’s feelings towards Mr. Barrett are essentially “How could this perfect man love little old me?” That dynamic is common in romance, especially YA (I’m not sure if this novel is intentionally written as YA or not, but it feels like a YA novel to me) and it’s frankly a bit tired.
My last issue was that the novel felt a bit meandering – family drama, death, romance, and Lydia’s discovery that she is a witch all play a major role, but none of them felt like the main focus of the plot. It almost felt as if Fox were trying to cram two novels’ worth of plot lines into one, and the end result was like a half dozen angry cats crammed into a sack. I would have liked to see a few plot points plucked out in favor of developing those remaining a bit more fully.
That being said, I do see why people would enjoy this novel. The horror elements were deliciously creepy and spine-tingling. The slow reveal of the reason Lydia’s family has fled to Willow Hall and the scandal they left in their wake kept me hooked. The sibling rivalry and family scandal combined with the supernatural elements of the story, and the overall effect was a slow build of suspense up through the end of the story.
Lydia’s relationships with her sisters were just as important to the plot as the romance, which is always nice to see. Despite some of my issues with romance itself, I did like that it wasn’t the sole thing going on in Lydia’s life; please spare me stories of women losing themselves completely over a budding romance.
Hester Fox’s debut novel is ambitious in what it’s trying to accomplish. The end result is engaging and a bit Jane Austin meets Gothic novel meets YA. I’ll definitely be watching to see what Fox writes in the future.
Have you read The Witch of Willow Hall? What were your thoughts? Read any other good historical fiction lately? Please share in the comments!