Friday, February 14, 2020

Book Review: The Shadow of the Witchfinder

The tenth adventure in the Shadows of the Past series, The Shadow of the Witchfinder finds Max, the talking Tonkinese cat, and the Lancelot twins Jemima and  Joe with best friend Charlie transported back to the 17th century, a terrible time in history dominated by a man with murderous intent: Matthew Hopkins aka The Witchfinder General! Hopkins’s mission is to eradicate all women suspected of being witches by burning them at the stake. Alas, many innocent women perished in his reign of terror. It is up to Max and his team to save Goodwife Clowes’ sister, imprisoned by Hopkins, along with several other women, awaiting what can only be called a sham trial before being consigned to the flames. Having returned through a time vortex at an uncomfortably dizzying speed, Max has the details. Now it’s up to the team to use their magic book to take them back into the pages of history. But first they need to read up all they can on the sinister Matthew Hopkins. Max isn’t all that keen on returning to Mistley Thorn, but innocent people’s lives are at stake. Plus, Charlie and Jemima have put together a kit including all kinds of potentially useful things. Max was annoyed that the list did not include a few sachets of yummy cat food, which he would most certainly label as an ‘essential item.’

 Using the book, Jemima’s necklace, and the poem as before, the trio plus Max find themselves whisked off to Mistley Thorn, and what a cold, misty scary place it is too! Magic and mayhem start right away because Goody Clowes might be more than just an innocent old lady who likes to sweep the place clean with her broom. Remembering his last encounter in Mistley Thorn, Max is definitely not up to any incredible feats of bravery that might be required. This is the first time that the kids have taken modern day items back into history and these spark off a chain of suspenseful and at times hilarious reactions as they try to rescue the imprisoned women. Harry Potter fans will just love the references and the reactions of the villagers to scenes of ‘wizardry,’ although not everything goes according to plan…
The author has created some very clever plot twists around this angle. If Max thought he was going to wriggle out of confrontations, he is wrong as Goody Clowes announces he must do battle with the Witchfinder himself. Why is it always me, he wonders…. He didn’t want to be a hero, just an ordinary cat. Alas, Max has had greatness thrust upon him and there’s no escaping destiny. Can he turn the tables on the Witchfinder and make sure Hopkins gets his just deserts?

Once again Wendy Leighton-Porter incudes excellent extras at the end of the story for young readers interested in Max’s genealogy, which is truly magical, and details of the Witchfinder’s rule of fear and his untimely end. The author does not gloss over the sad fate of the many women who were accused of witchcraft when, in fact, many were just skilled in herb lore and basic healing. Halloween and its origins are also explained, and this gives a good overview for readers who did not know the story behind the celebration. The author includes details of the next adventures so fans of the series (myself included) can get ready for more reading pleasure!