The Witch of Leper Cove by Deborah Bogen Book Review

The Witch of Leper Cove (previously titled The Wych of Lepyr Cove) takes place in Aldinoch, England between 1224 and 1226. The story centers itself around Lily Bigge and her younger twin brothers, Wyllym and Edric. The three Bigge children are orphaned and separated after their parents perish on a business trip. Lily stays with Alice, Aldinoch’s healing woman. Wyllym goes to work for a local wool merchant. Edric goes to the church to become an academic and one day a monk.

The children must cope with being separated and learn how to survive as orphans. Alice teaches Lily her way of healing and friendship, especially with lepers. Wyllym has to learn to be independent of his brother and come into his own. Edric must choose between scholarship and family. Everything seems to be going well for Lily and her brothers until Alice is accused of witchcraft.  Together the Bigge children and their friends have to find a way to clear Alice’s name to return her to the people of Aldinoch and Leper Cove.

A big appeal, for me, in The Witch of Leper Cove by Deborah Bogen, a poet and author of Landscape with Silos, was her use of world building for 13th century England. I don’t know what most readers know about 13th century England, but I certainly don’t know a lot of history on that time period. World building, the action of creating a setting in a world unfamiliar from ours, is important for a novel as much as it is for readers to understand the setting. Bogen does a wonderful job creating a believable world of life during the 13th century and the Inquisition.

 Of course there was nothing simple about ordinary life. Children died, husbands beat their wives, girls were raped, and boys died in wars for kings who cared nothing for their people. The world was often dark and cold, every year brought the fear of a bad harvest and the nightmare of babies crying in hunger. –Alice [174]

This passage doesn’t give a physical description of the world, but it shows the desperation and despair that can be seen through Alice’s eyes, something readers wouldn’t see from a younger narrator like Lily as clearly. Bogen uses the older characters, among other techniques, to her advantage to help reveal her own knowledge of the 13th century and build Aldinoch and Leper Cove.  For example, Bogen uses of the term dwart in place of belladonna in reference to the plant. The building of these places in The Witch of Leper Cove remind me a lot of the worlds built in a dystopian or post-apocalyptic novel—like YA novels Divergent by Veronica Roth or Partials by Dan Wells. Only Bogen has to build in the opposite direction of time and build a world based on knowledge that is already known. To me, this technique shows a writer dedicated to portraying a realistic setting and, at the same time, makes it unique to the story.

My first reaction to The Witch of Leper Cove was not entirely positive. I saw some areas that I thought could use some more development, like the pace of the plot. As an avid reader of the YA genre and an inspiring writer/editor I believe pacing is very important when trying to hook readers, especially younger ones. It is almost an expectation for these types of books in this specific genre. As I gave myself time away from the novel and thought clearly about the novel, the more positive aspects I saw to the book. And it is those aspects that readers will like about Bogen’s Aldinoch and its people. This novel is not only a great addition to the Children’s and YA markets of historical and coming of age fiction, but is one all ages can enjoy reading.

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