Published by University of Queensland Press on October 31st 2016
Genres: Historical, Young Adult
Book Depository | Publisher | Booktopia
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In 1628, Veronica and her brother flee for their lives into the German woods after their father is burned at the stake.
At the dawn of the eighteenth century, Scottish maid Katherine is lured into political dissent after her parents are butchered for their beliefs.
In present-day Australia, Paisley navigates her way through the burning torches of small-town gossip after her mother’s new-age shop comes under scrutiny.
Three women, from three different timeframes have only one thing in common – they are condemned for being witches. From 17th Century Germany, to 18th Century Europe, and modern day Australia in a small regional town, we hear from Veronica, Katherine and Paisley. They are each teenage girls with their own hopes and dreams, from worrying about their family, to survival, and the persecution that they experience.
What’s immediately evident are the different voices that are given to each girl, which felt authentic to the time period – from the more formal, olden day setting to modern day Aussie English and slang. I was able to pick up which of the characters I was reading at any one time, even though the chapters were extremely short.
Reading Hexenhaus was like reading three different stories in one, with key elements that ran parallel to each other. From their relative innocence before being condemned, to torture and persecution, to the road after everything’s been said and done, their stories went in three rapidly different directions. Aside from Paisley, I didn’t know whether Veronica or Katherine were going to escape their circumstances because of how severe the charges were laid against them.
From learning about Hexenhaus, a German witch house built to torture young women, the horrific torture devices that were used and the sheer horror these women felt at what had happened, Hexenhaus was a dark and harrowing experience about witchcraft in the 17-18th century. It was evident that you didn’t need to really do anything suspicious to be blacklisted as a witch – you just needed to be in the wrong place, at the wrong time to endure these unspeakable events.
There’s a strong theme of sexism running through the story, where the fate of many young women were decided from men along. At one stage, a male condemns one of the girls for intentionally beguiling him and casting a spell on him. Another women is blamed for a kid ‘seeing spirits’ which was sent after them. It was frustrating to see how these women could simply not defend themselves against such accusations, and it’s easy to see how far these rumours and accusations can spread like wildfire, causing the townspeople to spiral out of control.
While I was invested in Veronica and Katherine’s stories, I had trouble connecting to Paisley who probably had the least interesting perspective. She’s defending her mother, the town’s fortune teller from being accused as a witch. Perhaps it was done intentionally to illustrate how unfair these accusations were, but I had trouble believing that a kid repeatedly chanting her name was good enough to condemn her from the town. Paisley’s perspective was also quite out of place, given the historical settings of the rest of the book.
Hexenhaus provided a fascinating side-by-side glimpse into 17th-18th century witch accusations and today’s rumour mill. From witchy persecutions to the strong sexism vibe and how little “witchcraft” there actually was in the novel, it offers more of a historical perspective on witches. While I had trouble connecting to some of the characters, the interchanging chapters and stories kept the story moving.
Rating: 3 out of 5
Thank you UQP for providing me with a review copy!