The Witches of Vardø
By Anna Bergman
It’s 1662 in Norway and the paranoia of men is high. The King, in Copenhagen, is afraid of “witches” in the North and has a brutal governor in place on the island of Vardø who is tasked with hunting and executing them. This is a time where witches were to blame for so many things: the plague, storms and even empty barrels of beer. Some men were clearly afraid of women, some just wanted to blame them for their own doings or for bad luck. But women also accused other women – often for nothing more than jealousy.
This book is told from two point of view. Anna was once mistress of the King (back when he was still a prince). She has been banished to the island of Vardø, where she is kept as a prisoner. While she hasn’t been accused of being a witch, the threat is there as she is reminded repeatedly that she has no power there. She is desperate to get back to her home in Bergen, and will do anything to change her lot in life – even take part in trying to get confessions from accused witches. Ingeborg is 16 years old, and the daughter of a fisherman on the mainland. Her brother and father have died at sea and her mother, who was never a great mother to her daughters to begin with, has turned bitter in her grief. That is until the day that she catches the eye of the local merchant’s son and starts an affair with him. This leads to her being accused of being a witch and transported to Vardø, and triggers Ingeborg’s quest to save her mother from torture and death.
The chapters told from Anna’s point of view are written in first person, as letters to the king. Ingeborg’s chapters are in third person and through her chapters we learn a lot more about the Norwegians, their harsh life, the prejudices the people in the North faced from those originating from the South, and the challenges women faced. Ingeborg’s story catches the heart. Through so many events that could break her, she doesn’t steer away from her goal to save her mother.
… whispers began in the crowd, and people shifted their feet. Her story had unsettled them. It was a tale of violence, and abuse. None liked to hear if from the lips of a girl, for in her words perhaps they recognised themselves: the times when their husbands or fathers had taken them outside and beat them in the snow; the nights their masters were so drunk they forced themselves upon them. The jury of twelve good men shifted uncomfortably upon their bench… for it was easier to blame the Devil for the bruises on their wives and daughters; easier to blame witches for their emptied barrels of beer. Easier to brand the maids heavy with unwanted pregnancies as followers of the Devil.
It took a little bit for me to really get into the story, but I’m glad I gave it a chance. It was a very anger-inducing book though. In respect of the men and what they did, as well as the double standards. And Fru Brasche, who used her anger and jealousy to send three women to their deaths. In a time when women were at the mercy of fearful yet powerful men, that women did not stick together was inexcusable. Even Anna, though not party to the women being in their predicament, does pursue her course to support the conviction of them even after coming to the realisation that they are innocent – merely because it suits her ends.
Throughout this novel there is also Maren, the daughter of an accused and burnt witch. She believes that her mother was one, and she is too, and that women need to scare the men with their power to gain their freedom.
This is a fascinating and emotional book. One definitely worth reading.
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 and condemned as a witch.
Zigri’s daughter Ingeborg sets off into the wilderness to bring her mother 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?
The 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 is show their power.
Bookshelf spotlight: Jaz Parks
I first came across the Jaz Parks series by Jennifer Rardin in a charity shop in Saffron Walden when I was living there. Books 1-6 were a ridiculous 50-75p each, so of course I was going to get them. Plus the blurb of book one sounded just fun enough that I thought I might like the series.
Turns out, I was correct, so tracked down the last two books. Sadly, the author had passed away before I discovered this series, and before the last book was published. But thankfully she did get the final volume completed beforehand – I know, I’m heartless, but priorities; and with Jordan dying before he could finish Wheel of Time, it’s definitely a concern.
Jaz Parks works for the CIA. She’s a black ops agent and assassin, with a twist. Jaz has been assigned to protect the CIA’s top assassin – a vampire. Why does the top assassin need protecting, or was this just the excuse she was given? She is still struggling with an event that happened in her recent past when an operation went horribly wrong and almost her entire unit was killed by vampires. I want to say that she has some memory gaps about that night and what went wrong, and you come to know the full story through several books. But it’s been years since I last read these books, so my memory is a tad unreliable. There’s also some stuff around her mother, that is interesting to uncover. And you know that there is something different about Jaz, but you’ll go on a journey to discover what that is.
Vayl is the CIA’s top assassin. A master of black ops, he has never failed. He’s also a 291-year old vampire. Assigned to protect Vayl, if such a formidable creation can be said to require protection, is Jasmine Parks – ‘Jaz’ to her friends. A young lady with exceptional talents and secrets of her own.
In a world where the bad guys aren’t always human, the CIA needs some very specialised help.Book one blurb
Jaz is snarky and generally fun to read, which is helpful as the books are all written from her point of view.
“Get outta my way, you old bat”, I muttered under my breath as an elderly woman who shouldn’t have been driving a golf cart much less a Lincoln Town Car at this time of night putt-putted down the street in front of me, her blinker announcing she meant to make a right turn sometime before she reached the ocean.
Each book in the series has it’s own set of events that need to be dealt with, so each have a natural ending. However, there is also a larger story being threaded through each book, and I enjoyed finding the answers and seeing how that played out, just as much as the individual stories for each book.
I don’t read much urban fantasy, but this is a series that has earned its place on my bookshelf and will be read again in future. It’s great to pick up when I want something a bit lighter, and a bit more fun – despite that the content can also be quite heavy at times.
Decision at Doona
By Anne McCaffrey
Ok, I admit, it was the cover that made me pick this one up. I can’t help it – the idea of cat people intrigues me (and I still have Cherryh and Norton to read more of in that vein). But I’m very glad I did.
An advanced cat-like race, the Hrrubans, discover a planet that would be perfect for colonising. The project is one that the First Speaker (the highest of their ruling group) puts forward as a potential resolution to the apathy that has arisen from a civilisation too advanced and too greedy, and they plan to make the colony low tech. Meanwhile, humans (Terrans) also discover the planet and determine it fits the limited criteria for colonisation – top being that there is no native sentient race on the planet. Earth is over-crowded and people live very subjugated lives trying to minimise their presence. Some members volunteer for deprivations in the hope that they will be able to be in a group that gets to leave earth and head somewhere they can truly live.
The men of the chosen families have spent the ten-month winter on Doona building their village, learning practical skills to survive, and unlearning their conditioning, in preparation for their wives and children joining them in the spring. Mere days before their families are due to arrive, they discover that they are not alone. There is a village of cat-like natives across the other side of the river. This brings a great deal of consternation as this means they must leave Doona and return to Earth, as they have broken the Prime Rule.
So begins an interesting look at the interaction of the two races, and the events that lead to whether or not the Terrans can stay on Doona. There needs to be some very quick learning of languages and this is explained by advanced subliminal learning. I wouldn’t mind learning a language that way if I could learn it that quickly. But this does mean that the communication barrier gets taken away and instead we focus on the interactions.
I would have liked to have read more from the Hrrubans point of view. The opening chapter did make me expect more than we got. But I can see why at just 200 pages there was a limitation to that, and possibly also a desire for the reader to learn things alongside the humans on Doona.
Overall, I enjoyed this book, even though I had to pause at the introduction of the snakes and question whether I could finish it before sleep without triggering my snake phobia. Thankfully, the pace when they were around was fast enough that I spent little time with them and was safe. My imagination was captured and I was completely engaged. And thoroughly captivated by the 6 year old human boy who desperately wanted a tail.
Song of the Mysteries: publication date
This morning, I awoke to find a most excellent update in my Facebook feed: a publication date for Song of the Mysteries, the final volume in Wars of Light and Shadow by Janny Wurts.
I had been hoping it would be December, though I knew it was unlikely given all the delays and shortages right now. I can wait a little longer.
Preorders open in September. Like the last two volumes, I’ll be getting my order in for a hardcover as soon as they open.
With a year to go for the release of volume 11, you have time to start from the beginning and experience this masterpiece if you haven’t already. Or enjoy another reread if you have.
Rotorua Quilting Show
Despite having taken a hiatus in patchwork and quilting since I returned to Rotorua (life and getting used to sharing a house and the weekly commute), I was thrilled to go to The Great New Zealand Quilt Show in Rotorua this weekend. Given the name, I could be forgiven for expecting it to be bigger than Quilt Symposium which I attended in Lower Hutt last year. Alas, it was not. There were probably a quarter of the vendors (or possibly even less) and the numbers of quilts on display were somewhat small. With a skew towards art quilts. I was also somewhat confused by the categories in which quilts were entered: the winner of the traditional quilt category wasn’t a traditional quilt; and contemporary was a category that caused some confusion of what it meant – I think it was supposed to be a replacement for modern, but got lost in translation. Despite that there were some that I loved and I took photos so I could share them here.
First up, was this beautiful rendition of one of Michelle Hill’s appliqué patterns – not sure on the name of this pattern but it is the feature quilt in her book More William Morris Appliqué. Though I was disappointed to see that the designer and pattern had not been attributed. This was sewn by Elvene Mitchell.
There was this rather intriguing quilt made by Debra De Lorenzo based on fairy tales and nursery rhymes.
This quilt made up of one inch 60 degree diamonds made by Jocelyn Thornton was my favourite and the one I voted for in the Viewer’s Choice. I liked how she had used the same fabric for several different stars within her overall layout, and some of the photos below show some of the collections of them. Plus I love fussy cutting kaleidoscopes, so it’s no surprise I loved this one.
This applique quilt of New Zealand birds caught my eye. This was made for the retiring president of Aotearoa Quilters Christchurch. The blocks were adapted from Margaret Mathews patterns in NZ Quilter magazines and made by committee members.
There were a couple of art quilts with an amazing level of skill in machine thread painting by Sonya Prchal. Both which one prizes. First up this amazing work of a dog near a stream.
But her Red Panda quilt was my favourite of this style.
And finally, there was this work in progress piece in one of the guest exhibitions by Simone Michaux. When finished, there will be twelve sections completing the circle – one for each month of the year.
The King’s Seal
By Amy Kuivalainen
The King’s Seal is the concluding volume in Amy Kuivalainen’s The Magicians of Venice trilogy. At the end of the second book, we know that there is a ring prophesied to be used to defeat Thevetat, if only Penelope and the magicians can find it. Tim has left a large amount of information on Penelope’s laptop about the visions he had during his “curse”, but they are in a very jumbled order. Thus begins a great task to find clues within the text, trace them to a figure/event in history and thus slowly put the path together to find the last location of the ring. At the same time, Thevetat and his forces are strong and moving towards the goal of harvesting the approaching high tide to give Thevetat a body and bring forth more demons to rule the earth. Every step that the magicians and their allies take is met with even more retribution. But Kreios is fighting his possession, anyway he can – will this give them the edge they need?
Penelope learns more about her magic, and gains even more. We find out why she was chosen by Nereus as her heir, and why she and Alexis have been drawn together from the very beginning. Unsurprisingly, there are some rather pat answers to questions in the book, but overall this was a pretty good conclusion to the series. It does feel like the ending was left open though for a potential return to the characters – especially for Marco, Constantine and Kreios.
This book wasn’t groundbreaking, nor was the series, and it definitely won’t be up there with those that I have loved. But it was a fun and engaging read. I wanted to learn more and I read it through quite quickly wanting to know what would happen to different characters. It felt like the romance side of the story was getting stronger and stronger with each book, and there were times in this last volume that I wanted it to hurry up and get on with the story, but it didn’t detract too much from the story.
I think the author shows some promise, and it would be interesting to see where she goes next, but there will be many more authors ahead of her in my reading queue. If you are interested in an easy read series based on magic in the real world, and if you love the idea of visiting (or revisiting) Venice while you’re at it, it’s a series worth giving a try.