Weyward by Emilia Hart

Witchcraft is a subject I always find interesting to read about, so I was curious to see how Emilia Hart would approach it in Weyward, her debut novel published in the UK earlier this month. It’s a book set in three different time periods, something which doesn’t always work for me, but in this case the three storylines are so closely linked I found the structure very effective.

In Shakespeare’s First Folio, the three witches in Macbeth are referred to as the ‘weyward sisters’, a term which evolved into ‘weird sisters’ in later versions – and just like Macbeth, Emilia Hart’s novel features three ‘weyward’ women.

In 2019, we meet Kate, a young woman trapped in an abusive relationship. Finally making the decision to leave, she flees London for Crows Beck, a village in Cumbria where she has inherited a cottage from her great-aunt, Violet. Settling into the house, known as Weyward Cottage, Kate begins to uncover some family secrets that help her to understand the great-aunt she barely knew. A second thread of the novel is set in 1942 and introduces us to Violet as a girl of sixteen living at Orton Hall with her father. She longs to know more about her mother, who died when she was a small child, but her father refuses to talk about her, except to say that Violet resembles her – and not in a good way. As Violet’s story unfolds, we find out how she came to leave Orton Hall and build a new life at Weyward Cottage.

The third of the weyward women in the novel is Altha Weyward who lives in Crows Beck in the early 17th century. Altha, who has a knowledge of healing and herbs passed down to her by her mother, is on trial for witchcraft, having been accused of killing a local man. As Altha waits to hear whether she will be found guilty, we learn more about her life in the village and the truth behind the man’s death.

The three women are linked not just by a family connection, but also through a shared love of nature. In fact, it’s more than just a love – it’s an affinity so strong that they are able to draw power from the natural environment and find comfort in surrounding themselves with plants and animals even at the most difficult of times. I could have done without so many detailed descriptions of insects and spiders, but on the other hand the affection these women have for even the least pleasant of creatures is what makes them unusual and different. None of them conform to society’s expectations and for Violet and Altha at least, this can lead to suspicion and distrust.

The male characters don’t come out of this book very well; from Kate’s violent, manipulative ex-partner and Violet’s cold, strict father to the men who hold Altha’s fate in their hands, they are very much the villains of the book. However, I did like Violet’s brother Graham and the little we learn of Kate’s father, so not all of the men are shown in a bad light. As for the three female protagonists, I liked all of them, although Violet was the one I felt the closest connection with. The three narratives are written in different styles using different combinations of first and third person and past and present tense, so I never felt confused as to whose story I was reading. Parts of Kate’s story towards the end were quite predictable, but otherwise all three storylines were gripping, staying with one character for just the right length of time before switching to the next, and with plenty of cliffhanger chapter endings to keep things moving forward.

I enjoyed Weyward, although there wasn’t as much focus on witchcraft as I expected – it’s more a book about the magic of nature and the obstacles faced by women over the centuries. It wasn’t always comfortable to read as all three of the main characters go through some very traumatic experiences, but I found it an interesting and unusual novel and will look out for more from Emilia Hart.

Thanks to HarperCollins UK/The Borough Press for providing a copy of this book for review via NetGalley.

This is book 6/50 read for the 2023 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

12 thoughts on “Weyward by Emilia Hart

  1. Calmgrove says:

    Though I’m not keen on reading more about men’s inhumanity to women – there’s so much distressing stuff in the daily news which follows the sadly too familiar pattern – this sounds an interesting approach to the often clichéd stories about witchery and Wicca.

    And I don’t mind stuff about spiders; I wonder if Hart is slyly referencing webs – the webs that link the three women, the webs woven by the Three Fates (from whom Shakespeare’s weyward sisters were descended) and the fact that we all use the worldwide web to communicate these days?

    • Helen says:

      Yes, I often think there’s enough misery in real life without reading about it in fiction as well – but there’s a lot more going on in this book than that and I did find it a fascinating read. I admit to having to skim the spider parts, but it’s an interesting thought that the author may have been using them and their webs as symbolism!

  2. Margaret says:

    I’m not keen on books set in different timelines these days, although I used to like them a lot. But Weyward does interest me, so I’ve reserved it at the library – could be sometime before I get it. 🙂

    • Helen says:

      I hope you think it was worth waiting for! I don’t mind books with multiple timelines if they’re done well, but often I find I’m only drawn to one of them and not very interested in the others at all.

  3. jessicabookworm says:

    Helen, as you know I love a dual-narrative tale, and to find one with three threads about women with an infinity for nature sounds wonderful. I would be cautious about the traumatic experiences though – being a bit delicate at the moment and craving more comforting reads. Glad you enjoyed it. 🙂

    • Helen says:

      It was good to find a book with three threads that I enjoyed equally, as usually I find I’m much more interested in one than the other. It’s not a very cheerful book, though, so probably best to wait until you feel better!

  4. margaret21 says:

    Gosh! I’ve just got in a chain for this at the library, and I can forget about it till June 5th at least! In my case, I’m drawn in by the thought of the descriptions of insects, and especially spiders: you wouldn’t want to live here – it’s Spider Central. The lives of the women sound interesting too. I’ll find out … eventually

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