It’s a daunting task writing about witches and ghosts and keeping an adult audience captivated with realism and empathy. So I had low expectations for Hester Fox’s The Witch of Willow Hall (Graydon Housebut found myself pleasantly surprised. The plot line was so enthralling, I couldn’t put the book down.

It read like a Jane Austen book. I found it had so many parallels with Pride and Prejudice – the time period, the innocent  nature of the love story, the use of the prefixes Mr. and Miss to reference young men and women, the dynamic of three sisters struggling to uphold their family’s reputation and win the interest of an eligible bachelor, and most importantly, the eloquent style of writing.

The courtship between Lydia and John was the charming highlight of the book, but came with so many layers of complexity, a rival sister and supernatural injections.

Women in The Gilded Age in many ways were still perceived as the weaker sex and their liberation was an overarching theme in the storyline. The plot focuses on insecure, plain and well-intentioned Lydia who fends against a much bolder, promiscuous and also malicious elder sister without destroying their frail mother who can’t bear a bad family name.

The author shows the struggle of women to find a powerful voice without forsaking others or their own image. There are references to the Salem Witch Trials, which represented women with power dealing with the condemnation of society. So, when Lydia discovers her supernatural powers, it isn’t about being a good witch or a bad one. For her, it’s about being a witch at all. She doesn’t feel comfortable with the social pressures of being a powerful woman, unlike her sister, until she’s so restrained by a man and forced into a corner that she needs to lash out.

I commend the author for being able to take so many different concepts, such a range of characters and make them converge so skillfully.

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Hester Fox comes to writing from a background in the museum field as a collections maintenance technician. This job has taken her from historic houses to fine art museums, where she has the privilege of cleaning and caring for collections that range from paintings by old masters, to ancient artefacts, to early American furniture. She is a keen painter and has a master’s degree in historical archaeology, as well as a background in Medieval studies and art history. Hester lives outside of Boston with her husband and two cats. The Witch of Willow Hall is her debut novel.