Burning Issy by Melvin Burgess

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Burning Issy by Melvin Burgess

Category: Teens
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Story about the Pendle witch hunts in the 17th century, told from the perspective of a young foundling who becomes associated with it. Burgess seamlessly blends the history with his invented elements and shows exactly how it was to live in this atmosphere of fear and suspicion.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 176 Date: February 2012
Publisher: Anderson
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 1849393974

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It's the early 17th century and Issy is living in Lancashire with her foster father Nat and foster brother Ghyll. Nat is a cunning man - a herbalist and healer - and Issy keeps house while Nat plies his trade and teaches Ghyll how to follow in his footsteps. It's a hard life and there is little to spare. And the family live on the edge of suspicion. Convinced he's being plotted against by Scottish witches, the King has unleashed witch-hunts on a deeply superstitious and fearful country. Healers like Nat are working in the grey areas of persecution and are only ever an accusation away from torture and trial, while time is running out for self-professed witches like Demdyke and her family.

Issy doesn't know where she comes from. Taken in by Nat when just a baby, she is plagued by dreams of fire. In the heart of the flames is a face she cannot bring herself to look at. Already mocked as kissed by the Devil, Issy is being drawn further and further into the danger of the witch-hunt...

Andersen are happily reissuing Melvin Burgess's earlier books. This one was first published in 1992 and it's an accessible, relatively short, but absolutely compelling read. Burning Issy is a retelling of the infamous Pendle witch trials and, while Issy is an invented character, Demdyke and her family really lived - and died - as did the magistrate and other characters.

In his foreword, Burgess says I have tried to show how it may have felt to have lived then and in this, he succeeds magnificently. In Issy's world, people believe in a vengeful God, in the temptations of a very real Devil, and in the capacity of witches to do harm. And so they interpret events according to this world view. When Demdyke curses Issy's foster brother, Ghyll, he believes in the curse so entirely that he actually becomes ill. Issy truly believes she is a witch, and therefore evil, and that the Devil has taken her soul. There are some supernatural elements to this book, but Burgess leaves the decision about believing in them entirely to the reader.

It's a haunting, absorbing, sometimes shocking, story and it's beautifully told. It's always a pleasure to read anything written by Burgess and so Bookbag is very happy to see this series of reissues. Thanks, Andersen!

You might also like The Witching Hour by Elizabeth Laird, a beautifully written story about the witch hunts of the 1700s and the persecution of the Covenanters in Scotland. Those who like historical fiction to come with a supernatural edge will enjoy Firebrand by Gillian Philip and Montacute House by Lucy Jago.

Buy Burning Issy by Melvin Burgess at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Burning Issy by Melvin Burgess at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Burning Issy by Melvin Burgess at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Burning Issy by Melvin Burgess at Amazon.com.


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