By: Emilia Hart
Published: March 7, 2023
Genre: Historical Fiction, Magical Realism, Witches
…She knows the truth. About Altha Weyward. About Aunt Violet, too. About herself; and her child.
The truth. She can feel it spreading molten through her body, hardening her bones.
“This wildness inside gives us our name.”
All those years of feeling different. Separate. Now she knows why,”
(Chapter Forty-Seven: Kate).
It is not always the book cover that lures potential readers to them. Remember, the description usually is presented before the book cover design. So, which descriptions pique our curiosity the most before the book cover reveal? In the case of Weyward, the debut—yes debut—novel, by Emilia Hart, the description about the matrilineal (lineage) of one family, particularly “three women across five centuries”; three women who are trapped by societal conventions placed on women of their era. Three women who call on their wit and on their “hidden gifts” in order to survive the abusive, masculine situation they find themselves in. This is a description that bewitches readers to pick up the book.
There are three protagonists in this novel; three women from one preserving family: Altha, a white witch living during an era where “unruly” women are arrested and condemned for witchcraft; Violet, a teenaged girl and a daughter of a Lord, who longs for a chance to attend school instead of going away to a finishing school which her father prefers for her; and, Kate, a woman living in modern England who flees from her abusive partner to a cottage left to her by her late great-aunt—a cottage which has been in the family for centuries. All three female protagonists are about to face their toughest challenge yet. And, each one will need both their wits and their gifts to survive their coming ordeal.
The plot delves into how each female protagonist endures and survives the vindictive treatment they receive by the males in their lives. Altha Weyward—who is in prison for witchcraft—is surviving without her mother in England in 1619. Altha was taught and was warned about using their “gifts” in a male dominated society. Yet, Altha finds herself going under trial for witchcraft and in the death of John Milburn, the husband of Grace—her childhood friend. While it is obvious Altha “survives” her ordeal, her journal entries reveal: one, how her mother, Jennet Weyward, trained Altha in using her gifts while keeping them hidden from everyone else. Two, why Altha is on trial for John Milton’s death on the charge of murder. And three, what caused the fallout between Altha and Grace.
Violet Ayres is the daughter of a Viscount, and whose existence doesn’t go beyond Orton Hall due to her father’s “plans” for her, which is something she doesn’t want for herself—marrying a highborn suitor. During the height of World War II (1942), Violet stays at the manor while her younger brother, Graham, attends boarding school. Violet longs for an education, but her father insists that she remains at home and “learns how to behave.” Then, two moments occur that will change Violet’s life. First, is Violet finding the word, “Weyward,” scratched into a baseboard of her bedroom. This word causes Violet to question what happened to her mother, and whether or not the “W” engraved on her mother’s locket is for “Weyward.” Second, is Violet and Graham’s cousin, Frederick, is taking leave from his post in the military to visit the family at Orton Hall. Violet’s father already views Frederick as the “son he always wanted” (a blow to Graham); but, what does Frederick want, and why haven’t Violet and Graham known of him until now?
Kate Ayres is in an abusive relationship. Her partner, Simon, has controlled and manipulated her for their entire relationship, and she is fed up. Then, she learns she is pregnant. Kate knows that if she doesn’t leave soon, then she’ll never leave at all. Immediately, after discovering her pregnancy, Kate receives a letter that her late great-aunt Violet left her Weyward Cottage—a home that’s been in the family for generations. As Kate settles in at the cottage, she must decide on what to do with her unborn child and whether or not she is safe from Simon. In addition, she finds old documents, journals, and photos of the family she didn’t know about. As Kate goes through them, she learns about her father’s death, her grandfather and her great-aunt, and about how her great-grandmother—a Weyward—caught the eye of the son of a viscount. Not to mention, Kate is about to discover just how long the cottage has been in her family.
There are 2 subplots in this novel, and both of them are additional and essential elements of the main storyline. The first subplot presents the continuing issue of toxic masculinity and men in “power” who use their “position” to abuse others, particularly the women in their lives. Altha is accused of witchcraft, and the jury consists of all of the men in the community. Altha doesn’t know whether or not she’ll be found “not guilty” due to her status as an outcast. Violet’s father is very strict about her behavior and believes she would be better off at a finishing school than at a boarding school (for girls). During this disagreement Violet discovers the relationship her parents had and how her mother died. Kate’s partner is abusive and is controlling to the point where she had to buy a separate cell phone and to open a secret bank account. The second subplot delves into the gifts the women within this family has passed down for generations. Due to the nature of these “gifts,” the Weyward women are not told about it until a situation arises when they have to rely on their gifts. Obviously, these gifts are not physical possessions, but the heritage is important enough that almost all of the women within the family are “told” about it when the time calls for it. Both of these subplots enhance the plots in this narrative further.
The narrative within this novel is interesting. This is because it comes as no surprise that each of the protagonists have their own 1st person point-of-view chapters. However, Altha’s chapters are presented as past accounts—journal entries—which, was a plan she devised so she could leave behind her record of events for posterity. Meanwhile, both Violet and Kate’s chapters are told in the present tense—yes, even though their events occur decades apart—and as they happen to them. And, unlike Violet and Kate’s narratives—which we believe are reliable—we want to believe that Altha’s narrative is reliable also because she is writing her account of events honestly for her descendants. That being said, the characters’ stream-of-consciousness, memories, and discoveries provide a reliable, yet realistic narrative that can be followed easily.
The style Emilia Hart uses for Weyward is both familiar and unique. Many of us readers know about the subgenre of “witches” within the speculative fiction genre; and yes, many of those books are either “paranormal mysteries” or “paranormal romances.” This novel about witches parallels with the societal practices of women who are forced to stifle themselves in order to be “presentable” within society. Being labelled as a “witch” is negative regardless of whether or not that female was more of a healer than a witch. In many cultures, females are forced to behave in ways their male counterparts find “desirable” regardless of the physical and emotional strain it causes them. All three females protagonists are suffering due to these societal norms and practices. Now, include the part where they’re witches as well, and these protagonists have more fear of their actions than their current predicaments. Yet, their gifts will be what saves them ultimately from the men who (physically) brutalize them. The mood in this novel is survival; and, the tone in this novel is empowerment. All 3 female protagonists find themselves in a life-or-death situation, and they want to survive. In order to do so, each female protagonist must find the strength—and, in this case—the power, to overcome the toxic males in their lives and to survive for themselves and for those who care about them.
The appeal for Weyward have been positive. Not only has the book received notable praise for being an excellent debut novel, but also the book has been given praise on Amazon for being one of the “Editor’s Pick for Best Books of the Year So Far 2023.” The high ratings on Goodreads can attest to the praise amongst the readers. This debut novel is an excellent work which balances magical realism with witches; which, in turn, allows more of the reality within the fiction to be noticed throughout the narrative. Fans of both Constance Sayer and Louisa Morgan should read this book. In addition, fans of The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina, The Witch and the Tsar, When Women Were Dragons, and The Last Dreamwalker should read this book. This novel will be relevant within the canons of historical fiction, magical realism, and witches for a long time.
Weyward is a debut novel which contains the history and the magic similar to The House of the Spirits with the harsh realities of The Weight of Blood. Whether or not you want to read about witches, about the resilience of women throughout generations, or about a noteworthy debut novel, then look no further than Emilia Hart. I’m already looking forward to reading the author’s next book.
My Rating: MUST READ IT NOW (5 out of 5)!!!