The Blurb (from Goodreads):
In a remote west-country village, all is not as it seems. The minister’s daughters have taken to their bed, howling and spitting pins. Rumours of bad magic and ill-wishing are spreading fast—and fingers are pointing at Nell, the cunning woman’s granddaughter.
With Matthew Hopkins, the Witch-Finder General, on his way, Nell is alone, trapped, and in mortal danger. Who can she trust? Who will save her?
A dear writer friend told me that I must read this, and so obediently I bought it straightaway. It was great advice, as this is exactly the kind of children’s historical fantasy I love. It is set in a small English village during the English civil war (one of my favourite periods of history!) and tells the story of Nell, who was conceived in the wild mayhem of May Day. In pagan times, this was a day when men and women coupled freely, outside the ties of marriage, and any child born of that union was called a merrybegot. This makes Nell blessed by the fairy folk, even as she spurned by godly folk.
Grace is everything Nell is not. She is the daughter of the new Puritan minister, and is meek, biddable and perfectly behaved. She does not swear, or scramble about gathering herbs from the ditches and hedgerows, or make potions, or see peskies.
A merrybegot and a minister’s daughter – two girls who have nothing in common. And yet when Grace and her little sister start having strange fits, and spitting up pins, and seeing the Devil in the shadows, their fates collide.
I adored this book. The drama and pathos is perfectly tempered with warm flashes of humour, and Nell is a delightful mix of childish mischief and wisdom. I shall definitely be reading more of Julie Hearn.