Book Review: The Witches of Vardo by Anya Bergman

About the Book:

Norway, 1662. A dangerous time to be a woman, when even dancing can lead to accusations of witchcraft. When Zigri, desperate and grieving after the loss of her husband and son, embarks on an affair with the local merchant, it’s not long before she is sent to the fortress at Vardo, to be tried and condemned as a witch.

Zigri’s daughter Ingeborg sets off into the wilderness to try to bring her mother back 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 to Vardo in disgrace. What will she do – and who will she betray – to return to her privileged life at court?

These Witches of Vardo are stronger than even the King of Denmark. In an age weighted against them they refuse to be victims. They will have their justice. All they need do is show their power.

Published by Allen & Unwin – Bonnier (Manilla)

Released 4th April 2023

My Thoughts:

It’s been established long ago that I’m a fan of novels that dip into the history of witches and witch trials, so this one was always going to be a winner for me. It’s quite a slow burn, as many of these stories tend to be. The groundwork needs to be laid, the characters’ lives fleshed out so we can see them day to day before we bear witness on how they go from ordinary women to accused witches awaiting trial and being tortured into making confessions to crimes they did not commit.

‘The Witches of Vardo is inspired by the very real and terrible events of witch hunts which took place on the island of Vardo between 1662 and 1663. A total of twenty women died as a result of witchcraft persecutions between October 1662 and April 1663. Eighteen were burnt at the stake and two were tortured to death.

During the witchcraft trials in Finnmark in northern Norway, during the seventeenth century, 135 persons were tried, 91 of whom were executed, most of them at the stake.’ – Author note (On Fact and Fiction).

The author relies heavily on history for this story, but it is in no way a dense read. She carefully charts a journey where it is demonstrated over and over, just how perilous it was to be a woman in the seventeenth century, particularly a widow or a midwife, intelligent, or even, heaven forbid, beautiful. It was certainly a man’s world and they ruled it with fear, blame, and recrimination.

‘There are no witches in our village, Ingeborg, but the Devil does exist. Look into the eyes of our accusers and you will see him there.’

This novel is unflinching in its portrayal of what awaiting a witch trial meant for the accused. The brutality was severe, the degradations, the inevitable outcome. It is not a novel for the fainthearted, yet it is also not gratuitous in its portrayal.

The Witches of Vardo is a must read for fans of this area of history. Highly recommended.

Thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: The Witches of Vardo by Anya Bergman

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