The Serpent House by Bea Davenport
|The Serpent House by Bea Davenport|
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy|
|Summary: With a story that takes place both in the 11th and late 19th centuries, this is a tense and enjoyable time slip novel suffused with both landscape and the supernatural. I think it will find many fans.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 288||Date: June 2014|
|Publisher: Curious Fox|
|External links: Author's website|
It's 1898 and Annie is living a miserable existence with her aunt and cousins. Not long orphaned, she misses her mam every day. So Annie is overjoyed when her brother's employer Lady Hexer allows him to bring his sister to live with him on a cottage on the estate at Hexer Hall. Lady Hexer takes an interest in both brother and sister. But why?
Annie soon finds out when she touches one of the many serpent carvings inside the hall and is transported back to a leper hospital in the 11th century. There she meets Doctor Huksor and his assistant Meg, who see that Annie has alopecia and assume that she too is a leper. Terrified by the doctor's collection of snakes and the horrors of leprosy, Annie never wants to go back. But Lady Hexer is determined to retrieve his book of cures, believing that it will enable her to revolutionise medicine in her own time. With a mix of blandishment and threat, she persuades Annie to undertake the dangerous task.
But there are threats to Annie's mission. In both time periods. She is about to risk her life...
I thought this was a great time slip story. Usually, such books focus on the present day and a time in the past, but The Serpent House gives us two periods from the past - Victorian Britain with its fascination for spiritualism and the 11th century, when lepers were segregated from the rest of the population. In a way, this makes the book doubly interesting as the reader needs to imagine two environments very different from today.
Both the main characters have something to prove. Annie wants to be seen and accepted as normal, despite her alopecia. Lady Hexer wants to rescue the reputation of her family from the long-held rumours of its dabbling in the dark arts. But these ambitions aren't equally deserving: Annie is genuinely fighting prejudice while Lady Hexer falls into the trap of obsession and the end justifying any means.
I loved the Borders setting, which is richly described in landscape, food and speech patterns. In the 19th century, Hexer Hall is in England but in the 11th century, it's in Scotland. Doctor Huksor's disbelief and disgust when Annie explains this to him made me laugh - but it's serious, too, at a time when Scotland is building up for an independence vote. Little touches like this make The Serpent House stand out - and there are many of them.
I'd recommend this story to all fans of historical fiction and to all fans of time travel, too. It's nicely written with credible characters and a wonderful sense of time(s) and place. Give it a try. You won't be disappointed.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Serpent House by Bea Davenport at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Serpent House by Bea Davenport at Amazon.com.
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