If you are like me and would rather watch a video review than read one, skip to the bottom to see what Best Book Clubber Shanna Kay thought!
What It's About
When a really bad storm sinks a fishing ship and kills all the men from the island of Vardø , the women left behind must learn how to survive without them - which in 1617 Norway, is a feat unto itself. While they are adjusting to their new lives, Absalom Cornet arrives with his new wife Ursa to help them get back into the godly way they have strayed from without the men. Absalom turns out to be a witch hunter and the witch hunt begins. The story is based on the true story the Vardø storm and of the 1621 witch trials that followed!
What We Thought
We thought it was okay.
It turns out that we all went into the book expecting a completely different book than the one we got. Personally, I expected a book where all the men are wiped out and the women rise up from the ashes, learn how to be completely self sufficient in this mystical village of strong women. I imagined that one day a man stumbles ashore, finds them thriving and living the good life and then brands them all witches and sentences them to burn. That is not what this book was about. This book seriously lacked the feminist punch that I was hoping for. The women in the story do not band together. Most of them actually turn on each other. There are moments when they do come together as a group, but it's too late by the time they do. I mean, it's probably a more realistic version of the story for that time, but it is just a story and anything can happen especially when the book is about the possibility of witchcraft which was largely unexplored here as well.
The main characters, Maren and Ursa, were quite boring in my opinion and I think that the story would have been better told from the point of view of a few of the more interesting characters such as Kirsten or Maren's sister in law, Diinna. These two women were so compelling and I felt a serious hole in the story where their voice's should have been. I was left constantly wanting to hear more from them.
The writing style wasn't my favorite either. It is written in the present tense which I know is an unpopular format, but I didn't really have an opinion on it myself, until now. I think it was meant to feel like we were there in the "action", going through it all with them, but instead it felt jolting and unnatural. There was also something about her sentence structure or punctuation that made it hard for me to follow at times.
Of course there was a bit of a love story woven throughout which I usually love ❤ (other members of book club, not so much), but it wasn't overly believable and ended with a bit of a weird "climax" at an unexpected and even more unbelievable time that didn't make sense with everything else that was going on. It was like she had to insert a gratuitous lesbian love scene somewhere and after burning a woman alive seemed like as fine a time as any.
I don’t know very much -if anything- about Norwegian history but it seemed to be historically accurate and well researched. We are assuming that the history along with the fact that it's based on true events is why Madeline Miller described it as "A gripping novel...Beautiful and chilling." We really love and trust Madeline Miller but she didn't really deliver here...
Generally we all thought that it had so much potential to be great, but it just didn’t quite make it. I'm not upset that I read it, but I would have been okay too if I hadn't. It was fine.