Well done Nikki McWatters, you just succeeded in bundling everything I love about YA fiction in 331 pages!
As you can probably gather I am quite excited about this title. A delectable combination of 15th Century European History and Contemporary fiction, I was riveted to the book from the first page. Told in alternating narration Hexenhaus tells the story of Veronica, from 1628 Bamerg, Franconia (in what is modern Germany), Katherine, from 1696 Scotland and Paisley from present day Bunadoon, Australia. The three share a commonality, their names inscribed in a single book, the Systir Saga, a volume which binds them together in a witchy sisterhood than transcends generations, hailing back to early pagan society. With a powerful mix of historical truth and fiction, McWatters weaves the lives of the women together through their shared experiences of persecution and journey of self-discovery.
From the outset, as a text aimed at a YA audience, I think this works magnificently. Paisley’s narration effectively grounds the story in the here and now and will appeal to many teen readers, drawn to stories that speak to their own experiences. As a contrast to this, the narrations of Katherine and Veronica add a historical depth to the tale that is intriguing and highly evocative of the period explored. I challenge anyone to read this story without feeling drawn (at the very least) to read further into the history of the Grand Inquisition.
With obvious parallels to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter and Arthur Miller’s magnificent play The Crucible, Hexenhaus is perfectly suited for use with senior secondary students. Used independently, or as a shared text, it is a story that will certainly inspire important discussions about modern society, while complementing a historical exploration of the Grand Inquisition, witchcraft through the ages and life and society in 15th century Europe.
Hexenhaus is much more than a tale about witches and witchcraft. It is a story which examines the notion of evil masquerading in the guise of good, the evolution of mass paranoia and hysteria, all the while celebrating the indomitable feminine strength and triumph of the human spirit. Hexenhaus succeeds in its mission to unveil historical truths that must never be forgotten all the while speaking to a contemporary YA audience in a voice that they will understand.
Tanya Grech Welden