This month saw the publication of Her Kind, the eagerly awaited second novel by bestselling Irish writer Niamh Boyce. Her Kind is a work of historical fiction with an intriguing premise as it is inspired by the true events surrounding the Kilkenny witch trial that took place in the 14th century.
The events in this story take place in 1324, providing a reimagining of the events that led up to the Kilkenny witch trial, a trial which resulted in the death of a woman, one of many thousands who died as a result of future witchcraft trials, through an obsession which led to so many women being persecuted, and silenced. Through this novel, Niamh Boyce gives these women a voice. It begins with a woman named Petronelle, and from history we know very little about her, but here we get a glimpse into what her life may have been like, as a woman living in Ireland in medieval times. Petronelle arrives in Kilkennie in search of refuge, with her mute daughter, Basillia in tow. Here she finds a home with a childhood friend in the form of Alice Kytler, a powerful, wealthy woman, who is able to offer Petronelle and her daughter a new life, complete with new names and jobs, allowing them to blend in within the community. However, this is something that is short lived, and it becomes clear that Alice’s home is not the safe haven Petronelle would have hoped for. It is apparent that being a strong and powerful woman in this period of history is something that could draw attention, and result in a threat by those threatened by such power. This leaves Petronelle forced to fight for her own freedom, as the odds are stacked against her.
I read a fair amount of historical fiction, including several books that are inspired or related in some way with witchcraft and witch trials. However, there seemed to be a different feel to Her Kind, in which we are presented with a tense and atmospheric story exploring the challenges faced by these women in 14th century Ireland. The narrative alternates between multiple perspectives, providing a glimpse through the eyes of Petronellle, Basillia and Alice. This helped to add layers to the story as each thread of the story was woven together, and we get a sense of the complexity of these characters and their plight. Through their stories we explore the attitudes towards women at this time, and the way in which they were put in such grave danger. It is a story that addresses the challenges associated with being an independent woman, and facing the ire of the world around them, as well as exploring the relationships between friends, and between a mother and a daughter as these voices form the heart of their story. And as the events lead up to the conclusion, there is a definite sense of foreboding throughout, and a grittiness to the writing which helps depict a bleak period in history.
Her Kind was an intriguing read which helped highlight the plight of the women involved in the Kilkenny witch trial through a vivid and atmospheric reimagining of their lives. It was published on 4th April 2019 by Penguin Ireland with thanks to the publisher for providing a copy for review.