*Thank you to Little Brown Books for Young Readers via NetGalley for providing me a digital ARC of this novel to review*
Witches, alternate history, phenomenal characterization — how was I not going to enjoy this book?
It’s a fun sensation going into a book blind, which is what I did with this novel, and it yielded a delightful reward. Virginia Boecker has crafted a slow-burner of a story with characters that are out of this world entertaining, from our heroine, Elizabeth Grey, to every one of the supporting cast that appears along the way. I love ensemble stories, especially ones with a wild host of very different characters. Boecker’s character-crafting and developing skills are clearly her forte. Every person in this novel has a unique voice and personal ambitions/interests that exist outside the collective goal.
Set in an alternate 1500’s, the story kicks off with a relative bang as we first meet our heroine, Elizabeth Grey, witness a witch burning at the stake. But she’s not there to watch: she’s there to capture someone else. Elizabeth is a very real, very grounded heroine. She’s not only a product of the world in which she lives as well as the –later revealed to be totally horrific — training she has received. She’s clever and brave but also equally vulnerable and emotional. In other words: she’s human and flawed. But the best part of Elizabeth is that, at the end of it all, she’s a genuinely decent human being. Also, she develops immensely over the course of the novel.
The side characters range from a King’s fool to a father-and-son pirate and healer team to a fiery witch and even partially-deaf lords. Every single character that enters the story is a joy to read, not always because they’re nice or good, but because they are interesting. John, Fifer, Peter, and George are a crew I’d be more than happy to join up with and have on my team. Absolutely excellent.
If I have one criticism of the novel, it’s the ending. It’s an odd pacing, at first taking it’s time and then careening full-gallop to a conclusion that doesn’t really give the characters time to breathe or digest, or even grieve. If this is a standalone, an epilogue would have been a welcome addition; if this is the start of a series, which I suspect it is, then I suppose the pacing could have been slowed and stretched just a hair. Other than that, a wonderful, entertaining debut!