Author: Elizabeth Goudge.
A lyrical, introspective tale set in 17th Century England, when Cavaliers struggle with Puritans for the king and throne. The story revolves around characters on both sides of the war. On the puritan side, we have a half-gypsy healer with hidden depths, Froniga the white witch. She struggles with her pride and her love for a Catholic. The local squire of her town, Richard, is also a Puritan; he fights his own cowardice and anger as he tries to discern where he really belongs. Froniga’s lover, Yomen, and a young nobleman friend of his, Francis, are both Catholic. The war will test bonds of friendship and love to the limit as it tears them apart, even as the fire purifies and builds them back up again.
It’s easy to tell that this is an older book from the very first page. Where agents and editors now tell authors to “hook readers in the first paragraph” and “keep the action moving”, The White Witch comes from a writing period in which readers were more patient, and appreciative of detail. Elizabeth Goudge takes her time starting, indulging in rich scenic descriptions and narrator-perspective backstory. Beautiful prose is something I’ve always enjoyed, and this author writes with delightful care and description.
The characters developed slowly, some later than others, but each rounded out well. Even the minor characters have a depth to them that engages the reader’s interest, and of the major characters there is a wide spread in type, from gypsy to young nobleman to soldier, each distinctive and believable. Indeed, the main focus of the book is on inner development and struggle in the characters, man vs. self, despite the war going on. Speaking of the war, Goudge uses a clever technique to keep the narrative balanced by placing important characters on both sides of the war going on; nor does she favor one over the other.
A somewhat slower read that will require your patience, but the beauty of the story, the unfolding layers of character and reflection, and the satisfaction of the well-told story should be well worth your while.
Sexual content: Brief kissing.
Language: 4 d***
Violence: Multiple battles. The narrative focus is on the flow of the battle as a whole, rarely on the individual fighting. Casualties and injuries, too, are mostly spoken off en mass rather than individual wounded soldiers. Two men wrestle and one of them dies, apparently of a heart attack. A woman is forced to flee those who would mob and burn her. One character stabbed through the chest. One character hung, no details here.