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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Vanishing Witch
This novel takes us from September 1380 to September 1381 and takes place mainly around the city of Lincoln. The main plot revolves around respected wool merchant, Robert of Bassingham, married to Edith and with two sons, Jan and Adam. When Robert is approached by wealthy widow, Catlin, he is flattered and happy to help give her advice. Before long, Catlin has wormed her...
Published 7 months ago by S Riaz

versus
3.0 out of 5 stars The period detail is quite well done and the (I think contemporary) quotations about witchcraft are interesting and the supernat
This story got off to a rollicking start but then petered out, at least for me. The period detail is quite well done and the (I think contemporary) quotations about witchcraft are interesting and the supernatural aspect is nicely handled. That said, after the initial scene setting, things become a little leaden.

The basic plot is quite simple and what is...
Published 3 months ago by H. T. Davies


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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Vanishing Witch, 7 July 2014
By 
S Riaz "S Riaz" (England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Vanishing Witch (Paperback)
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This novel takes us from September 1380 to September 1381 and takes place mainly around the city of Lincoln. The main plot revolves around respected wool merchant, Robert of Bassingham, married to Edith and with two sons, Jan and Adam. When Robert is approached by wealthy widow, Catlin, he is flattered and happy to help give her advice. Before long, Catlin has wormed her way into Robert’s affections and into his household, although Edith’s maid Beata is suspicious of her motives and Jan feels he is making a fool of himself with the younger woman.

A side story concerns river boatman Gunter, who lives with his beloved wife and children in a small village outside of the city. Work is hard to find and the family live in poverty, but their troubles are about to be increased with the new poll tax. This was a tax to be paid for every person in a household over the age of fifteen and, not trusting those paying to declare everyone in their family, Commissioners would visit and carry out intrusive and crude investigations into the age of children living there which caused outrage among the people already struggling to pay. As Gunter works for Robert and lives in a cottage owned by him, their stories interact throughout the novel.

I have read, and enjoyed, all of Karen Maitland’s novels and this is certainly one of her best. Anyone familiar with her books will know that there is often a magical element to her stories and this is the case in this one too. With tales of ghosts, sorcery and witchcraft, this is a tale of murder and magic. From the beginning, we doubt the motives of Caitlin and her children – the arrogant Edward and the sinister Leonia – and her designs on Robert and his family. Yet, it is unclear that is to blame for unfolding events and, indeed, there are a number of plot twists which will alter your perception of the different characters as you read on

Although I really enjoyed the mystery concerning Robert of Bassingham, I felt the storyline concerning the Peasants’ Revolt worked less well. This is a pretty hefty book, but still the author perhaps tries to fit too many side stories and events into the plot. However, as always, her characters are interesting and her ability to create a realistic historical background excellent. Each chapter begins with spells and anti-witchcraft charms, taken from medieval texts and folklore, which help set the scene and create an arresting atmosphere. Lincoln is a city where the rich fear attack, the poor fear starvation and unrest lurks, alongside the spirits, in the narrow lanes. If you enjoy historical mysteries, then Karen Maitland is an author that you should certainly add to your reading list.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bewitchingly Beautiful!, 1 Jan. 2015
By 
CAS (Zwolle, Netherlands) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Vanishing Witch (Hardcover)
Set from September AD 1380 until September AD 1381 this book by Karen Maitland tells the story of the Peasants' Revolt (or the Great Rising which occured from 30 May - November 1381) during the reign of King Richard II.
The Government of King Richard II was mainly directed by his uncles of which John of Gaunt was the most prominent one due to the fact that he was at that time Regent of England until Richard II would become of age to rule the KIngdom by himself.
Taking into account that the common people are becoming poorer all the time and that landowners are filling their pockets to such a extent that it will become unavoidable at some point that a revolt will be finally unleashed with catastrophic results.
This book tells the story of the Peasants' Revolt in a most thrilling way, it pictures this time of history in a really splendid fashion of what fear, suspicion, suppression and anger can do to people, so much so that a whole society of Peasants finally stands up against the constitution and ultimately a battlefield will be formed between Peasants and Aristocrats.
And so when superstition starts spreading and when unnatural deaths are occurring, it's all too obvious to spy witchcraft at every turn and to suspect people at every place.
The story is really very exciting and entertaining about these turbulent times of English history, where country, King and his people are in a lot of turmoil and fighting with each other, in a world where survival is everything.
Recommended, because this author deserves really so much more credit and recognition, and this book alone is really "Bewitchingly Beautiful"!
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dark historical tale, 14 Aug. 2014
By 
Denise4891 (Cheshire) - See all my reviews
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I’ve really enjoyed Karen Maitland’s previous novels in which she combined historical and magical storylines to brilliant effect.

The Vanishing Witch is set in fourteenth century Lincoln and centres around wool-merchant Robert Bassingham. When we meet Robert he’s married to childhood sweetheart Edith, but it’s fair to say their marriage is not all wine and roses. His elder son Jan works as a steward in the family business, and younger son Adam has plans to pursue a more intellectual career, much to his father’s disdain. Robert is swept off his feet when he meet widow Caitlin, who inveigles her way into his life and sets it on a course of death and destruction.

As often happens in Maitland’s novels, some of the more minor characters are the most interesting and sympathetic . The Bassingham family’s servants Beata and Tenney have a touching relationship and local riverman (and Robert’s tenant) Gunter struggles to earn a living in the face of rising taxes imposed by Robert at the behest of Richard II. This leads us to a sub-plot featuring the Peasant’s Revolt, which I personally would have liked to have seen explored in a bit more depth.

It’s a dark and bawdy historical tale and I enjoyed it a lot, though it’s not my favourite Maitland novel. I think some of the humour found in her earlier books, particularly The Owl Killers, has been missing of late, and I do miss it. However, her trademark storytelling and characterisation are just as strong.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Tale of Betrayal, Treachery and Greed, 20 Sept. 2014
By 
Brett H "pentangle" (Brighton) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Vanishing Witch (Paperback)
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This is a tale of betrayal, treachery and greed set in Medieval England during the reign of King Richard II. As is usual with a Karen Maitland novel, the story weaves its way around real historical events of the time. In this case the well documented Peasants' Revolt when the poor of England rose up against the counsellors surrounding the young King whom they blamed for the imposition of the unreasonable poll tax to pay for the costly wars with France.

Two of the main characters in the story become embroiled in this revolt, though in different ways and with very different consequences. However the Revolt entwined them and their connections foils a further plot in the novel and changes the fate of its' main protagonists forever.

The sack of John of Gaunt's palace, one of the major destructions of the Revolt, appears in the novel. The rivalry between the English and Florentine Merchants and particularly the wool merchants of Lincoln are historically known. Many of the buildings referred to in the novel,such as the old Guildhall where two of the main characters meet are well documented as having existed, although they are now no more.

There are other charming historical touches: each new section and each sub paragraph within them begin with spells, weather lore or anti witchcraft spells taken from recorded folklore ,medieval spell books or ecclesiastical writings.

Karen Maitland is a master at using real history to authenticate her stories and on that score this one does not disappoint.

The tale itself is told from several perspectives and sometimes I found this a little incongruous, especially as one was a ghost! However the characters are all well individually crafted which does help make this more palatable and the number of chapters with different lives and issues help the main plot come alive.

My only other slight criticism would be that it's overly long. At 661 pages it is not for the faint hearted. It could have been shortened without the story suffering. Having said that it's a good read and if you enjoy this genre you'll find yourself engrossed in its pages.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Deadly deeds in medieval Lincoln, 11 July 2014
By 
Petra Bryce "bookworm" (Malvern, Worcs) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Vanishing Witch (Paperback)
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Robert of Bassingham is a wealthy cloth merchant in the city of Lincoln. One day he is approached by Widow Catlin, who seeks his advice with regard to investing some of the money left to her by her husband. Soon Robert finds himself falling head over heels for the comely widow, despite protestations to his wife that it isn’t so. When Edith starts to fall ill, Catlin moves into the house to care for her, bringing her grown-up son Edward and her adolescent daughter Leonia with her.

At the same time, labourers and peasants up and down the country are literally up in arms as a result of King Richard II levying a heavy poll tax on every man and woman over the age of fifteen. Feeling they are left with no other recourse, rebels march on London to parley with the king. Though the riots and execution-style murders are centred on London, the ripples of rebellion are making themselves felt even in faraway Lincoln.

Karen Maitland is one of my favourite authors as she consistently keeps the reader engaged with her dark tales of England’s medieval past, exploring events that other authors of historical fiction novels disregard in favour of more popular periods (e.g. the Tudors). Her characters, in particular the female ones, are strong and convincing, her descriptions of everyday customs, fashions, dishes and occupations, infused with some local dialect, adding real atmosphere, making a bygone age appear before your inner eye. Usually infused with a fair amount of the supernatural, she manages to make everything paranormal appear terrifyingly plausible. As always, she takes the time and trouble to deepen the interested reader’s understanding of the events portrayed in the novel by adding a fairly comprehensive glossary and historical notes in the appendix.

With regards to the plot, it twists and turns like the snake on the front cover, and I won’t be giving too much away by saying that not everyone lives to see the end of the book, and that some are not what they at first appear. It’s fair to say that I was gripped from beginning to end and raced through the nearly 700 pages in less than a week, yet it still felt as if I was leaving some of the characters too soon. If that’s not recommendation enough, then I don’t know what is.
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3.0 out of 5 stars The period detail is quite well done and the (I think contemporary) quotations about witchcraft are interesting and the supernat, 24 Nov. 2014
By 
H. T. Davies - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Vanishing Witch (Paperback)
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This story got off to a rollicking start but then petered out, at least for me. The period detail is quite well done and the (I think contemporary) quotations about witchcraft are interesting and the supernatural aspect is nicely handled. That said, after the initial scene setting, things become a little leaden.

The basic plot is quite simple and what is happening becomes clear fairly early on so there's not really much susepnse of the whodunnit variety and the ending does not come as a surprise but more as a sort of relief when what you've been expecting for a couple of hundred pages actually happens. This lack of drive then caused the period detail to pall with me a little.

The dialogue is also rather heavy. Although it's not of the "gadzooks" faux-medieval variety is does tend towards the over explanatory at times and at others seems hammy.

I was expecting to really enjoy this novel as it has all the ingredients I like, murder mystery, history and the supernatural but somehow they just did not come together for me and was left with a feeling of wanting something more. Even though it wasn't really to my taste it's clear the writer has a great knowledge of the medieval period and can plot out a book. Maybe some tighter editing was required to bring everything into focus.

Still, if you like medieval murder mysteries I think you should find something in it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Wondrous words woven with witchcraft, 30 Sept. 2014
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This review is from: The Vanishing Witch (Hardcover)
The Vanishing Witch is thick with suspense (a bit like Gunter’s pottage).

As soon as you open this book you are immediately transported into the 14th Century and get to know each of the character’s, whose lives, we find, are intertwined.

It’s an excellent story told by each of the characters in turn and it flows beautifully. It’s well thought out, Karen Maitland gives you just enough in each chapter to make you hunger for a little more.

There are elements of witchcraft which are well-suited to this era, but don't worry, it’s not unbelievable hocus-pocus for the sake of it, it’s a subtly woven thread which in the end makes it a truly marvellous read. There’s so much more depth to this story than you first realise – in fact, there’s quite a conspiracy going on…

And there’s an extra special bit at the very end that I didn’t know about before I purchased the book: you’ll find a small glossary of terms appropriate of that time, plus a historical summary / breakdown of the Peasant’s Revolt which is pretty interesting and a nice touch which makes the world you’ve just become engrossed in seem all that little more ‘real’.

Excellent stuff.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Riveting Read, 9 Sept. 2014
By 
Lunar Shine "Moon Shadow" (Dorset) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Vanishing Witch (Paperback)
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This is the first Karen Maitland novel I have read and it certainly won't be the last.

The Vanishing Witch transported me back into the cruel era of the Middle Ages, a terrible period of British history. Karen Maitland style of writing is so descriptive, so much so, I actually could easily visualise the characters and the way life must have been at that time of history.

It's the reign of the young Richard II when the poor became even poorer, and the rich, richer. Poll Taxes are raised to a ridiculous amount until eventually the peasants decide enough is enough and it is time to fight back.

Robert of Bassignham was a Wool Merchant and was married with two sons, Jan the eldest and Adam. Life for Robert was about to change with the entrance of Caitlan, a 'rich' widow who wanted Robert to invest some of her money for her - and then the story begins......

I won't give away any more of the plot, only to say, this book is riveting; it takes you through history, romance and the supernatural. It is a real page turner and I just love the way Karen Maitland writes, she combines traditional story telling with suspense - just brilliant.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A well-paced historical thriller, 15 July 2014
By 
Mondoro (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Vanishing Witch (Paperback)
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A well-paced tale of witchcraft, intrigue and murder in medieval Lincoln, set against the background of the Peasants' Revolt. Karen Maitland evokes a dark world of oppression,in which a peasantry, already suffering tremendous hardship, are squeezed further by a rapacious and unsympathetic government. The arrival in London of Wat Tyler and his followers, the murder of those whom they hold Responsible for the iniquitous poll tax, and the destruction of John of Gaunt's house make up the central historical event, and are graphically described in this novel.

Added to this well-defined historical background, is Maitland's sheer ability in providing a page turner in which her characters struggle in an enchanted world of spells, witches, ghosts and other supernatural forces, matched by the real world of murder, deceit and intrigue. Its short chapters fizz, with frequent cliff-hangers along the way, all delivered at an unflagging pace. This is a long book without a superfluous page, which sustains its momentum right up to the end, with a surprising denouement.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dark and bawdy historical romp., 11 Sept. 2014
By 
JK "J. K." (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Vanishing Witch (Paperback)
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The usual Karen Maitland mix of history, superstition and the supernatural. I find her scene setting great and The Vanishing Witch is no exception. There's a dark heart to the story and it's quite compelling.

Set in 14th century Lincoln the plot is centred around the character of merchant Robert Bassingham and I think it's fair to say, initially, he's not exactly a happily married man. It's not a great surprise when Robert's eyes wander in the direction of the enigmatic Caitlin, a widow, but suspicions are immediately raised by Caitlin's real motivations!. She seems perhaps a little to eager to maneuver her way into his life and once she's there well; it's true to say Robert's life begins to spiral rapidly in the wrong direction. Perhaps that's merely coincidence?. Could it be witchcraft?.

I enjoyed some of the smaller characters in the novel more than some of the most obvious. That's something I usually find with this author. There's a lot of 'small stories' tucked away inside the body of the main plot and they can be really enjoyable. A nice feature here is the story of the Bassingham servants as they suffer under huge tax demands imposed upon them by Robert who has no choice but to obey instruction from the King, Richard II. Leads nicely into Maitland's themes of the 'Peasant's Revolt'. The story builds nicely but it's true to say that it takes it's time and requires some concentration.

Dark and bawdy but perhaps missing out on some of the Maitland humour and sparkle I discovered in her other novels. I enjoyed 'The Vanishing Witch' but not as much as some of her earlier work.
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