The Witch of Willow Hall by Hester Fox
No one speaks of the events that had brought the family to Willow Hall. Driven from their former home, their father having lost his business due to the constant mentioning of the scandal in the newspapers; stories brought about by Lydia's former fiance, Cyrus. Hoping the Montrose family has moved far enough away from the ears of the town, they hope for a new start for their three daughters in Hester Fox's The Witch Of Willow Hall.
At a young age, Lydia knew there was something different about her. She couldn't out words to it but she knew that something boiled inside her when she got angry and that whatever had exploded out of her that day with Tommy Bishop, it was out of her control.
All she knew is one second she had realized that the young disturbed boy had killed her family cat and the next he was on the ground clutching a leg that would never mend properly into adulthood, but she had never touched him with her hands.
It wasn't just talk of what had happened as a child between Lydia and Tommy that had clouded the family name over time. A strange rumor of an illicit love affair between her sister Catherine and their own older brother Charles was on the lips of everyone in town, eventually ruining the family name. Charles was sent away to London where he eventually took a wife, Catherine followed the family sullenly to Willow Hall.
Cyrus broke his engagement to Lydia and helped spread the slander.
Willow Hall was a new start for everyone.
It was meant to be a summer house, the beautiful home far more impressive than a house that had been burned down nearly twenty years before. Youngest sister, Emaline was first drawn to the pound that bordered the property, hearkened by an imaginary boy and the promise of mermaids at the bottom of the pond.
When Emmy's dog escapes into the woods one afternoon, it is then the sisters' meet their father's new business partner, a man named John Barrett. From that moment, Lydia has a reason to live again.
The painting of their mother's ancestor looked strange on the wall. An unsmiling bonnet clad woman with dark eyes that seemed to penetrate the canvas. Lydia had since seen the woman on the grounds of Willow Hall among the other ghosts that collected at her side. A sinister warning appears one day on the glass of her mirror warning about the types of spirits that gather to her. It was said that her mother's people had been witches, some had died right in Salem during the witch trials.
A Casual Picnic
Within days of arrival, John had arrived with a friend of his for lunch named Mr. Pierce. Enchanted at the sight of Catherine and Lydia, who paled in her sister's image; the two are invited to have a picnic lunch in the woods with the two young men. Emaline insists that she tag along, even though the eight year old would be the odd person out.
John though it kind the arrival of the young girl and is apt to letting the child pull him by the arm to see the wonders of the forest he knew so well growing up on the neighboring property.
It is on this day that Catherine first sets her sights on August Pierce, only to have him change his mind about her as wind of her incest with Charles finds its way to the village.
Catherine is desperate for any man to take her after what has been said about her and even though she know that John favors bookish Lydia, she tries to get in the way of their budding affections.
Desperate, Catherine even writes to Lydia's former fiance and the family blackmailer, Cyrus and asks for him to marry her.
Time in running out before Catherine's child is to be born and then more shame will befall the family.
She just wanted to see the mermaids that the ghost boy had promised her. Emmy had taken off the night of the ball and dove deep into the pond looking for the creatures that her spirit friend had promised her. When John had found her icy body, Lydia blamed him for not being able to bring her back. Not knowing her own powers, Lydia made a pact with her sister beyond the grave, binding the child's ghost to the property and the soul of her sister. Now Emaline was everywhere.
No Friend In Her Sister
It was a blessing in disguise, Lydia had said of the loss of Catherine's baby. No one would have to know and perhaps the rumors would one day rest, finding Catherine a suitable husband.
But Catherine only allowed her pain to consume her and was set to use it against Lydia, binding her from having the happiness the elder sister had so desperately had sought after.
When an elderly aunt suffers a leg injury in a carriage accident, it is Catherine that insists that Lydia be sent in her stead forcing her away from seeing John. As the weeks pass, Catherine writes that John has become engaged to another woman in town and that is enough to keep Lydia from wanting to come back.
Cyrus is ready to prey on her again, begging her back to be his wife despite the things he knows about her. When Lydia refuses, he says that he will again spread his stories to the media and make sure that her family is ruined this time.
Hoping to protect her parents from whatever Cyrus thinks he knows about now, Lydia feels she has no option but to marry the man that she despises to silence his tongue forever. He has seen her use her powers. What could be worse, a witch or the crimes that Catherine has committed?
Saved by a letter that he mother has fallen ill, Lydia is finally summoned back home.
All the while Lydia was gone, Emmy has walked the grounds of Willow Hall, slowly decaying a little more each day. She hasn't seen much of the other ghosts in the area, not the boy that had burned in the fire that had summoned her into the pond, or the ancestor that appeared to Lydia speaking of their powers. Emmy was also special and it was the reason Catherine had hated both sisters. Jealous of the powers they possessed although they hadn't known how to use them.
"I wasn't one of them, but my mother was," Lydia listened to her mother in her sick bed as she passed her a book that had been handed down through the family line to the women who were blessed with the craft. "I knew that you were special, so was Emaline."
Her mother's people had been witches, and they were not bad, her mother explained. In fact there was no darkness in their line and the things that they could do were mysterious and beautiful.
Her mother recalled when Lydia was a child and she became happy a ring of flowers bloomed at her heels as she danced around in the grass, but sometimes anger would cause doors to slam and things to happen to bad people like Tommy Bishop. But these things could be controlled.
Their mother had wished that there had been more time for Emmy. She had already saw the beginning of the blossoming of her powers.
With her mother's book, Lydia now had the means to save her mother from the illness and put Emmy's ghost to rest.
A Duel In The Woods
Cyrus refuses to give up his pursuit of Lydia.
Upon her return home, John and Lydia had spoken and realized that both had been lied to by Catherine and immediately had gotten engaged. John promises an end to the blackmail and confronts Cyrus and eventually plans to duel the man to make sure that he never comes near the Montrose family again.
Having shared nearly everything that had happened at Willow Hall, Lydia confesses to John that she has seen the ghost of his brother, Moses, on the grounds and he was the one that lured Emmy into the pond.
She is worried that John knowing that she is a witch could add further scandal and that he might be pushed away from wanting to marry her, but he has his own confession in exactly how the fire that had killed his mother and Moses had started in the house that had been on the land before Willow Hall.
Willing to fight for his love, John and Cyrus duel, leaving Lydia injured when she tries to stop the men. Her power explodes out of her sparing John from being injured. It doesn't matter after all he has seen, John can not be scared away from being with Lydia and Cyrus sullenly returns to the city.
The Witch Of Willow Hall is beautifully written and a powerful page turner who's story charms to the core. The only thing I wished for more of in this book was more about the family witch heritage, their powers, what Mother's book had said.
So little of the narrative of witchcraft in this story is buried under the scandal of Catherine that the story is more about the bickering of the two sisters and what Lydia is willing to give up to save the family than about her being a witch. If there was more exploration to the book, would she have found a way in the notations of the witches before her how to end the scandal using magic and bind Cyrus from blackmailing the family? Would she had been able to put Catherine in exile or see through her own lies?
I wanted a little more time with Emaline too, wanting to see more than a child's tantrum. Such a well written character before her death, I wanted to see a little more of the magic their mother had talked about with Lydia happen around her showing how flowers bloomed in her wake and other small nods to her power.
Though that said, with those improvements would the story have been as mysterious?
The Witch Of Willow Hall is a great book, if you can get into a story that lightly mentions the subject in the title and has greater focus on a family scandal and what one brave woman will do to protect the reputation of her parents.