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Review : The Witches of Vardo by Anya Bergman

I’m delighted to be sharing my thoughts about The Witches of Vardo by Anya Bergman.

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  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Manilla Press (5 Jan. 2023)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 400 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1786581914
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1786581914

They will have justice. They will show their power. They will not burn.

Norway, 1662. A dangerous time to be a woman, when even dancing can lead to accusations of witchcraft. After recently widowed Zigri’s affair with the local merchant is discovered, she is sent to the fortress at Vardø to be tried as a witch.

Zigri’s daughter Ingeborg sets off into the wilderness to try to bring her mother back home. Accompanying her on this quest is Maren – herself the daughter of a witch – whose wild nature and unconquerable spirit gives Ingeborg the courage to venture into the unknown, and to risk all she has to save her family.

Also captive in the fortress is Anna Rhodius, once the King of Denmark’s mistress, who has been sent in disgrace to the island of Vardø. What will she do – and who will she betray – to return to her privileged life at court?

These Witches of Vardø are stronger than even the King. In an age weighted against them, they refuse to be victims. They will have their justice. All they need do is show their power.

The Witches of Vardo Review

I had many different feelings reading The Witches of Vardo.

The domineering patriarchy taking away all control and independence for females in this age of 1600’s (and of course, not just for this time) made me feel very uncomfortable.  As did women being blamed for EVERY misfortune.

Of course, I understand that we often need to have someone or something to blame when things go wrong and that women are often the scapegoats but …

The raw brutality and total disregard of basic human needs the Governor and Bailiff Lockhert dealt out to our captive ‘witches’ was bad enough but the utter contempt they have for the women and joy in what they inflict, adds another layer altogether.  Anna experiences some of this too.

Anna is furious and refuses to be a martyr.  Her backstory is heart-breaking and underpins every decision she makes.  She fights back in subtle ways.  Her part in this story is as a healer and a destroyer. 

The Witches of Vardo isn’t all dark though.  The strength of spirit of Ingeborg and Maren let me breathe a bit easier (I was so tense reading this story!).  And the first stirrings of love that continue despite what happens, brought me warmth.    

Some scenes made me so angry and tense, others cheering and punching the air.  One scene in particular had me feeling both …

I felt the harshness of the physical environment in my bones and it made me wonder about the strength of the communities and tribes, who for them, this is their everyday life.

I loved the mystical and magical alongside the mundane and the coming-of-age thread.

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I did something I NEVER do – about three quarters through, I flipped to near the end of the story because I had to KNOW.  And I had no regret that I had scanned through before returning to where I was.

Anya Bergman’s characters have so much depth.  I know she was inspired by the court records but she’s created real women and I feel, has done them justice.

The Witches of Vardo should be your next read.

About the Author

Anya Bergman became interested in the witch trials of Vardø and the vivid folk tales of the north while living in Norway. Travelling to the Steilneset memorial, in which Louise Bourgeois and Peter Zumthor commemorated those persecuted as witches, she became fascinated by their stories. Now resident in Ireland, she is currently undertaking a PhD by Published Works at Edinburgh Napier University in Scotland where she also lectures as well as tutoring for Jericho Writers. She is working on her next novel, which unites the fates of two very different women against the tumultuous backdrop of the French Revolution.

Twitter @anyacbergman

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