Monday, 18 August 2014

Review | Malkin Child by Livi Michael


by Livi Michael

My Rating: 

Wouldn't you like to save your family, Jennet?

Jennet's family all believe they are witches. Other folk think they are, too. But 1612 is a dangerous time to be a witch. When her family are imprisoned and put on trial in Lancaster Castle, Jennet's evidence will help decide their fate.

On the 18th of August, 1612, Anne Whittle, Elizabeth Device and James Device were tried at Lancaster Castle on charges of witchcraft. All three of them were found guilty thanks to the testimony of a nine year old little girl called Jennet, Elizabeth's daughter. The next day eight more were tried, including Alizon Device, who was Jennet's sister, and they too were found guilty. The next day all of them were dead.

The Pendle Witches are some of the most famous 'witches' in Britain's history; never before had so many people been tried and hanged for witchcraft at once during the witch-hunting craze that swept over Europe in the 17th century, and never before had someone so young been able to testify.

There have been many interpretations of the Pendle Witches story over the years - particularly as 2012 marked the 400 year anniversary of the trials - but none of them have impressed me as much as Malkin Child.

The book tells the story of the trials from the POV of young Jennet Device, only nine years old, and explores the reasons behind why she decided to stand up in court and claim that her family were indeed witches.

I was lucky enough to meet Livi Michael at a Children's Literature Festival back in May, where I listened to her read out a few extracts from Malkin Child and talk about the process of writing it. I loved the sound of it - and I loved the idea of writing a story about the trials for children - so I bought a copy and she kindly signed it for me!

I read it in the space of an hour, it's a very short middle grade book and it's very readable; Michael has given Jennet a charming, authentic voice, so she really does sound like a little girl who's grown up in one of the poorer areas of 17th century Lancashire. 

I enjoyed this book a lot. I appreciated that Michael's retelling didn't turn Jennet into a hard-hearted child who wanted to see her family dead, as so many other interpretations have, but that she presented her as a little girl whose trust was abused by the authorities. She was used as a means to a very gruesome end.

In fact I found Malkin Child quite emotional; Jennet truly believes that she's doing the right thing, truly believes that by calling her family witches in front of a jury she is saving them, and it's heartbreaking to watch her realise that her actions send her family to their graves.

Even though the story is, sadly, based on true events, there is something of a light at the end of the tunnel. Jennet loses her family, but the ending is bittersweet rather than entirely miserable, and we are left with hope for Jennet's future.

Like Witch Hill (which I reviewed here!) I definitely recommend Malkin Child for younger readers; particularly younger readers who are interested in history or historical fiction. That being said, I think anyone can enjoy this book! Michael brings a horrifying period of history to life through the eyes of a child, and she does so tastefully and respectfully, and really that's all we can ask for when it comes to retelling the stories of the poor people who were hanged 402 years ago.

I would also like to mention that the proceeds made by Malkin Child were donated to Stepping Stones Nigeria, a Manchester based charity which is fighting against the witch hunts that are still happening in the Niger Delta today. If you can, please take a look at their website and spread the word or, if you're able, donate. It's an incredibly worthy cause.

J.

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