The Hellion – Harriet Young – book review

The Hellion is a fictionalised but well-researched adaptation of the Pendle Witch Trials on 1612, brought to life by Cheshire author Harriet Young.

The Chester-based writer has gathered over 40,000 Instagram followers on her account @thesenovelthoughts, which she set up the day she first put pen to paper for The Hellion – four years ago.

Harriet – aged 32 – has always been interested in the macabre, but was hooked by the story of the Pendle Witch Trials when she heard about the events 400th anniversary in 2012. Since that day, Harriet has deep dived into archives, visited Pendle Hill, and brought those executed in the trials to life in her debut novel.

The blurb for The Hellion – which was released on April 15 – reads: “Whalley, 1537: On a day like any other, a devastating fire changes the lives of two young girls. What happens next triggers a series of events leading inexplicably to the cells of Lancaster Gaol.

“Lancashire, 1612: The most notorious witchcraft trials in England are taking place. Among the accused, three generations of the same family. A family rooted in Pendle, tied to the infamous Malkin Towers and always followed by a whisper of evil. A family destroyed by the evidence given by a nine year old girl.”

I’ve previously read The Familiars, which was also a fictionalised account of the historic witchtrials, and I was really pleased that, whilst inspired by the same events, they told two totally different stories.

The Hellion was incredibly well researched, with facts laced between Harriet’s vivid reimagination of the events that unfolded. The book explores the power of the butterfly effect, and how one moment or event can dramatically change the course of history.

We are first introduced to young Elizabeth and Anne, in the early 1500s, and we follow their journey into motherhood and grandmotherhood, with the story focusing strongly on the Southern/Device family. We learn of their skills and how they became to be so reknowned – and eventually, how three generations of wise women were executed for their ‘crimes’.

The Hellion is packed with emotion, betrayal and drama – particularly for young Alizon Device, who feels conflicted about witchcraft, and finds her family life difficult. Following a heated run in with a pedlar, she finds herself and her family implicated in a web of witchcraft accusations – her nine-year-old sister the key witness to the trial.

Not only does The Hellion tell a griping historical account of the lead up to the trial, it also goes to show just how independent women were treated in society at the time, despite just wanting to gain financial independence. These women were feared and ridiculed, but incredibly intelligent – but their skills ultimately led them to the gallows.

The trial itself, and the execution, were only a small portion of the book, but Harriet’s afterword goes on to explain why she wrote the book as she did. The eerie novel beautifully brings identity and voices to the accused, and raises awareness of the horrific event which saw 10 of the 12 accused hung.

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