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This should have been brilliant, really. Three winning elements for me – Jeannette Winterson (a favourite author), the Pendle Witch Trials (long a source of fascination), and Hammer Films (a current obsession). But what a disappointment!

Leaving aside the historical inaccuracies, which I can forgive as Winterson clearly states it contains “speculations and inventions”, it reads more like a plot outline submitted in haste, and requiring substantial revision and fleshing out of both story and character. It was graphically violent but without the support of characters you care about, to give the violence significance or impact. It is written in brief sentences and chapters, so events happen fast and are less believable having little build-up. Alice’s story of real witchery and bedevilment is preposterous where it could have been an original twist in the tale; and the “witches” are pure stereotypes with no characterisation and invoking no sympathy –  with the exception of little Jennet, and her only because of modern sensibility about child abuse.

But the real problem is the poor quality of the prose which is most unlike Winterson’s usual polished style. She could have written a far less sensational story with real depth that would have chilled right to the bone; instead she offers an overblown nonsense, told with lack of care and lack of respect for her readers. This may be a new series for Hammer which is constrained by a formula, but you would expect better from the author of The Passion; I certainly did. It hurts to say it but: unrated.

Hammer 2012, ISBN 9780099561859

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