In The Children of Witches, it's seventeenth century Germany. Anna is married to a drunk, but has two children, both of whom she adores. Konrad is the hard-working one while Manfred is the one with the beautiful singing voice. There's something else about Manfred that Anna wants to keep secret. He's different. He doesn't make eye contact or communicate, he barely talks and spends his days collecting stuff. When the Church learns of him, they take him away and use him for their own purposes. Because of his singing voice, they think he's some kind of talisman against witchcraft, which supposedly is running rampant in the community. Things get out of control when accusations abound and innocent people are put to death. Anna must find a way to put an end to the madness and reclaim her son.
I absolutely adored this book. It sat on my shelf for awhile because I wasn't sure I was going to like it. First of all, the cover didn't jump out at me. Secondly, based on the back cover, I was worried that the mother/son angle was going to be dominate the story and I thought it might get a little sappy. However, that's so not the case. I'm still not fond of the cover, but the story was so much more than a woman's fight for her son. It's also about life in Germany in 1664, witch hunts (literally), mob mentality, abuse of power, sexuality, false accusations and more. The writing was easy to read and the subject matter was enlightening. I'm so glad I finally picked it up and read it. It was fantastic.
Nowadays, Manfred would probably be diagnosed with a type of autism. However, back then, it probably could have gone either way. Either he was labelled a witch and dealt with or idolized for his special talent. At first, I was worried that it was going to be the former, but in a way it turned out to be much worse. It must have been so hard for Anna, trying to keep Manfred's secret. Highlighting his talent so that people wouldn't notice his condition backfired on her and caused her to lose her son. It was a bad situation for everyone.
There are a couple of sexual scenes which might offend sensitive readers. The scenes are in no way gratuitous. They help portray the atmosphere of the times and fit in well with the story. However, the scenes are quite descriptive and might cause concern for some readers.
gulden (page 56): old coin
libidinous (page 64): expressing sexual desire
enfeebled (page 103): weakened
thurible (page 112): container for burning incense
puerile (page 121): immature
somnolent (page 167): sleepy
aspergillum (page 300): holy-water sprinkler
This book would make an great book club book. There are plenty of hot topics to discuss, which should provide for a lively discussion.
I was very excited to learn that Smith is from my hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.
Highly recommended. I'd love to read Smith's first book, The Virgin's Tale and any other book she writes.
For more information about this book, please visit Simon & Schuster's website.
I'd like to thank those nice people at Simon & Schuster for this review copy.
The Children of Witches by Sherri Smith, Simon & Schuster, ©2010. ISBN 9781847371874(Trade Paperback), 316p.