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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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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on 3 January 2016
I enjoy historical and paranormal novels so finding these genres in one story was always going to draw me in. The balance between the ordinary and the witchcraft was just right ensuring I was intrigued enough to keep turning those pages while becoming a part of the story myself.

Robert of Bassingham, newly elected master to the Guild of Merchants, looks out of the Guildhall and sees a woman wearing clothes made from the finest cloth and so his fate is sealed. Mistress Caitlin is not all she appears to be and weaves her way into Robert and his wife Edith's life. In Greetwell we follow Gunter as he punts his deliveries and tries to be a protector for his family. There's another narration that intrigued me (I didn't guess the link!) and an ambiguous figure who keeps turning up. Beta's narration (Robert's maid) was really interesting too.

I loved the history - the Flemish, poll tax, the uprisings. Everything felt very authentic and engaged my imagination. In my proof copy the author has added historical notes (and a glossary) which readers may find useful.

The witchery made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. The weather and settings add to the 'darkness' and there are quite a few scenes that had my pulse racing. I loved the weather-lore and anti-witchcraft spells at the start of the months/chapters. Some I had heard of but most were new to me.

The Vanishing Witch was almost a keeper for me. I had worked out one particular relationship and so those scenes didn't hold the same curiosity as they would have done. It's a gloriously dark read in a world where although a totally different place than today still has the same emotions. I can guarantee you will identify with the characters. One for your wish list.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 14 August 2014
This is a rollicking medieval read full of sex, death and superstition. Set against a loose background of the Peasants Revolt, this touches lightly on issues of political inequality and injustice but that’s not really where the interests of the book lie. Instead this is imbued with an almost fairy-tale atmosphere from the proem with its mythic tale of retribution and revenge, to the final revelations of the epilogue.

The characters are almost archetypes – the shrewish first wife, the charming but ruthless widow, the insinuating daughter – and one of the voices that tells the story is that of a ghost... though we don’t find out whose until the end.

So this isn’t historical fiction in the political vein of Sharon Penman, and nor is it in the modern bodice-ripper style of Philippa Gregory: instead this is almost a modern version of the medieval morality tale where the evil characters come to very nasty ends.

So not a book to read for historical realism, but a darkly energetic story that takes great pleasure in its own macabre playfulness.

(This review is from an ARC courtesy of the publisher)
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 20 September 2014
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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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VINE VOICEon 7 March 2016
This is the fifth novel I have read by this author who specialises in Medieval historical novels with a fantasy/horror twist. This one is set in Lincoln against the backdrop of the Peasants' Revolt in 1381. The passages dealing with the Revolt are quite interesting and the desperation, expressed in extreme violence, of those rebelling against the iniquitous tax well described. My favourite characters were the waterman Gunter and his family. The main plot, however, concerns the machinations of the witch Catlin and her family, enveigling themselves into the household of a local cloth merchant, Robert of Bassingham. Some sections are told from the point of view of a ghost, with a twist at the end about the identity of that spectre when alive. It's a good read overall, though a bit long at 500 pages.
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TOP 50 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 11 September 2014
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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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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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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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on 12 May 2015
Karen Maitland's books are a spell-binding read of witch-craft, folklore and historically accurate historical facts about medi-evil times. She skillfully combines them together with a cracking story-line. This book was no exception. I could not put it down.
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on 24 September 2014
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This book richly weaves intrigue, adventure and a touch of the supernatural into an enjoyable romp. I have to admit I didn't enjoy it quite as much as some of Karen Maitland's others, though having said that I loved the setting of medieval Lincoln, which is richly evoked and being a city I know well is still recognisable today.

Like so many novels these days this a long book, and I'd be happy with a book half the length. That said, there are plenty of twists and turns and a cast of characters to keep it interesting. Some of the interwoven strands to the story petered out towards the end I felt, and the supernatural element wasn't quite strong enough for my liking.

But the above are minor points. Anyone who enjoys Maitland's work should enjoy this, and the dark tale of intrigue with a superb historical setting.
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