Blog Tour/Book Review: Sunwise by Helen Steadman

I’m delighted to be hosting today’s stop on the blog tour for Sunwise by Helen Steadman, the sequel to Widdershins.   My thanks to Lisa at Impress Books for inviting me to participate in the tour and for my advance review copy.

You can read my review below but do check out the tour banner at the bottom of this post to see the other fabulous book bloggers taking part in the tour.

sunwiseAbout the Book

When Jane’s lover, Tom, returns from the navy to find her unhappily married to his betrayer, Jane is caught in an impossible situation. Still reeling from the loss of her mother at the hands of the witch-finder John Sharpe, Jane has no choice but to continue her dangerous work as a healer while keeping her young daughter safe.

But, as Tom searches for a way for him and Jane to be together, the witch-finder is still at large. Filled with vengeance, John will stop at nothing in his quest to rid England of the scourge of witchcraft.

Inspired by true events, Sunwise tells the story of one woman’s struggle for survival in a hostile and superstitious world.

Format: Paperback, ebook (212 pp.)    Publisher: Impress Books
Published: 1st April 2019    Genre: Historical Fiction

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Find Sunwise on Goodreads

My Review

Sunwise is the sequel to the author’s debut novel, Widdershins.  Although Sunwise can be enjoyed as a standalone, it does refer to events in the previous book so I would definitely recommend reading Widdershins first.  Both books are fairly short, so no excuse on that count!  In her afterword, Helen Steadman describes how writing a sequel to Widdershins came about because its two main characters –  John Sharpe and Jane Chandler – kept reappearing in her mind.  She explains, ‘they continued to haunt me with their unfinished business’.

Like Widdershins, the events in Sunwise are recounted through the alternating narratives of witch-finder, John, and herbalist, Jane, who is now married to Andrew Driver and bringing up her daughter, Rose, the child of her first love, Tom.   Once more, their two stories run separately but throughout the book the reader has the sense of the underlying inevitability that they will converge at some point.   I don’t think it’s giving too much away to say that when they do come together it’s in the most dramatic and shocking way, delivering an unforgettable climax to the book.

I can completely understand how the character John  Sharpe would continue to haunt the author’s mind because, as I wrote in my review of Widdershins, he seems to be the incarnation of pure evil.   In fact, this is where those who have read Widdershins have an advantage because the insight the first book gives into his early life perhaps provides some explanation (but certainly not justification) for his future actions.  Demented, delusional, violent, misogynist are just some of the adjectives that come to mind when trying to describe John.  His hypocrisy and arrogance is quite staggering and, at times, almost laughable.  For example, seeking to justify giving into sexual temptation on his travels, he argues the women concerned, “In giving up their flesh to me […] felt themselves brought nearer to God, and that was something I could do for them.  A small sacrifice of my own morals and these women could experience the Godhead”.  I suspect I’m not the only reader who gave a little cheer when the consequences of John’s sexual indulgence are revealed. (If you’re interested in learning more about the real life witch-finders who inspired the character of John Sharpe in Widdershins and Sunwise, you can read the author’s guest post here.)

Those who have read Widdershins will also have additional insight into how Jane comes to find herself in the situation she does at the beginning of Sunwise – (en)trapped in an unhappy marriage to Andrew, the best friend of her true love, Tom, and now pregnant with Andrew’s child.  Despite resistance from Andrew (and the ever present risk of accusations of witchcraft), Jane is determined to continue offering her services as healer and midwife to the local community using the knowledge passed down from her mother.  I loved the details of herbal remedies and their uses scattered through the book which had an almost poetic quality from the use of alliteration: rosemary for remembrance, mandrake to soothe mania, snowdrop to slow senility, ivy to take down inflammation.

20190225_094947-1Other lovely touches in the book were the descriptions of seasonal rituals such as constructing the corn dolly and kern baby for the harvest supper (read the author’s fascinating guest post about corn dollies here) or the celebration of Imbolc, marking the beginning of spring.  I also liked the use of phrases from chapters as chapter headings, such as ‘A Pale Green Powder’.

I described Widdershins as ‘a fantastically atmospheric book that immerses the reader vividly in seventeenth century north east England’ and I consider the author achieves the same feat in  Sunwise delivering another compelling and powerful story.  I was pleased to learn the author is working on another book set in the 17th century and I, for one, will very much look forward to reading it.

I received a review copy courtesy of publishers, Impress Books.

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In three words: Compelling, dramatic, atmospheric  

Try something similar…Witch Wood by John Buchan (read my review here)

HelenSteadmanAbout the Author

Helen Steadman lives in the foothills of the North Pennines, and she particularly enjoys researching and writing about the history of the north east of England.

Following her MA in creative writing at Manchester Met, Helen is now completing a PhD in English at the University of Aberdeen to determine whether a writer can use psycho-physical techniques to create authentic fictional characters.

(Photo credit: Goodreads author page)

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