Author: Delfy Hall
Genre: Historical Fiction/Fantasy
Pages: 342, paperback
Published 25 December 2015 by Vulpes Press
1647, The Hague, Holland (Province of the Dutch Republic). Mina Walraven is a scientist and the apprentice of Pieter Moll, the Stadtholders Naturalist and spends most of her time observing the animals in the nearby woods. Of course, like any good scientist, Mina doesn’t believe in magic.
However, when a woman is condemned to death and hanged, an evil it set free. Mina must soon question everything she knows in order to save her world from complete destruction.
I received a free copy from the author in exchange for an honest review
“Try not to look too threatening,” she whispered.
How does one do that?
“Try to look smaller.”
My kind does not do such things.
When I first saw this book appear on Anne’s blog I thought: I need to read this! Here’s why:
- First of all it’s about the history of my country. So yes, I am definitely curious as to how this was going to work out.
- Secondly I was really attracted to the time period and interested in the way magic was used in this book concerning this time period.
- Thirdly… Well I just like a good historical fiction/fantasy mix.
This book is set in the 17th century and the Dutch Republic was then in the Dutch Golden Age, an age of extreme wealth and prestige. Here is a picture of a map created by a famous cartographer (Blaeu) in 1649:
To have it enlarged click here. This map really works if you want to understand/see the layout of The Hague at the time period.
In the prologue a woman gets condemned to death and is hanged by men who believe that she is in fact a witch. Nobody knows that this woman is the only person who stands between the people and a man who is a most feared and powerful warlock.
Now here comes another but of Dutch history so that you might understand the scepticism of certain characters of the whole witch/warlock thing. You see back in the 16th century there was a small town called Oudewater (it still exists) and this town had the right to weigh those who were accused of witchcraft. If the accused were not deemed light enough the charges were often dropped. This is the heksenwaag (as we call it in Dutch), the instrument that measures the weight of a witch. The accused would stand on one of the wooden plateaus and the weights were put on the other. This instrument was used until the second half of the 18th century but by that time most inhabitants of the Republic deemed to believe in science rather than witchcraft.
As I already mentioned this story is about Mina Walraven who lives in The Hague in the province of Holland (which is again part of the Dutch Republic). She is the apprentice of Pieter Moll who is the Naturalist of Stadtholder Fredrick Henry (or simply Fredrick Hendrik in Dutch). Her parents were murdered when she was only a little girl and as far as she knows her parents’ murderer is locked up in prison (de gevangenpoort… a real creepy place if I believe the rumours about it). Mina discovers, however, that the murderer called Gregor is now free and on the loose, somewhere in The Hague, because of the death of Leonara (the woman who was hanged in the prologue). This launches her into a magical adventure which will alter her perception of the world as she knows it. Luckily for her she is not unaided in her quest to save the people she holds most dear and together with Basa she is ready to defend her city (and probably the entire country) from complete destruction.
Overall it was such a pleasure to read this book. The language was great and I really appreciate the fact that Hall didn’t change any names of parts of The Hague. There was a nice flow from start to finish, no random business along the way and I felt that most actions and scenes were used to create a well constructed story without any room for uncertainties.
Something I specifically liked was the way the author combined the already present influence of science and the still lingering superstitions of most people in the sixteen-hundreds. It is only natural for people to stay with what they know and back then science was new and unknown to most ordinary folk.
The characters were well formed with a history, a context within the story, nice detailed information and there was a clear purpose for nearly every single one of them. Those who were less important were easy to pick out because of the lack of detail for them. Like everyone else I had characters which I liked and which I didn’t like. For instance I really detested Mina’s nephew called Joris, I’ll get back to him later. One of the characters that I loved was Basa, I already mentioned him before and the block quote at the beginning of this review concerns him because he is a wolf. Yes, Mina is able to speak with animals. I mean come on! How freaking awesome is that?! Haven’t we all once wishes for being able to know what our cat thinks? Or how it would be to have a conversation with a pig (or any other animal really :’)). Do you want to know more about Mina? Yes? Then read the book because I will give no more spoilers!
One last thing about the characters: I think Hall did a great job concerning the known Dutch figures from that time period. She portrayed them well and they fit nicely within the story.
Though this was a great book there were some things that annoyed me a little. One being the fact that Mina is still reluctant to believe in magic (even after the fact that she is able to speak with animals and has seen some strange things which are not even remotely explainable using science). The second thing is a character named Adam who is actually a real pain. He is a witch-hunter and fancies Mina when they meet but later on he jumps to conclusion and acts like a (yes I’m just saying it) complete dick. Then there is the personal quest of Gregor. His character is really well written but he seems to not really know how he is going to make his scheme work, which is somewhat confusing. Lastly there is Joris, Mina’s nephew. His personality is just inconsistent and he appears to have some sort of personality disorder.
It is easy to see that Hall spend time in doing research about the history of The Hague and that really shows when the historical background is concerned. (She even had contact with the someone from the archives in The Hague!) A nice addition to these details is the fact that she quite clearly shows the difference in religion. This is not an aspect which comes back in great detail but the contrast between Calvinism and other ‘currents’ is just a good addition to the whole. Another great addition is the use of folklore. I really do like the idea of a moss maiden in the tree and other such original ideas.
All in all I really did like this book and I really enjoyed reading it. The description of The Hague was lovely, I was able to see nearly everything right there in front of me (though that is not too hard because a lot of places in The Hague are still quite like they would have looked in the 17th century). The detail was beautiful and I couldn’t possibly let this book go for any longer than was absolutely necessary. I give this book 4.5 stars because I just really liked it and it was exactly what I had hoped it to be.
Anne from Inked Brownies has recently interviewed Delfy Hall. Click here to read the interview.