CUNNING WOMEN By Elizabeth Lee @Windmillbooks @EKLeeWriter #CunningWomen #bookblogger

Available from 22nd April 2021 | Hardback | Paperback | audiobook | ebook from all good book retailers.


When it is no longer safe to be a witch, they call themselves cunning.

1620’s Lancashire. Away from the village lies a small hamlet, abandoned since the Plague, where only one family dwells amongst its ruins. Young Sarah Haworth, her mother, brother and little sister Annie are a family of outcasts by day and the recipients of visitors by night. They are cunning folk: the villagers will always need them, quick with a healing balm or more, should the need arise. They can keep secrets too, because no one would believe them anyway.

When Sarah spies a young man taming a wild horse, she risks being caught to watch him calm the animal. And when Daniel sees Sarah he does not just see a strange, dirty thing, he sees her for who she really is: a strong creature about to come into her own. But can something as fragile as love blossom between these two in such a place as this?

When a new magistrate arrives to investigate the strange ends that keep befalling the villagers, he has his eye on one family alone. And a torch in his hand.

Cunning women is the powerful reckoning of a young woman with her wildness, a heartbreaking tale of young love and a shattering story of the intolerance that reigned during the long shadow of the Pendleton Witch Trials, when those who did not conform found persecution at every door.


It’s 1620,in a small hamlet in Lancashire. Living on the outskirts of the main village are the Haworth’s, it’s an area that has been deserted due to plague, they are the only family to habit there in squalid conditions, with damp and mould on the walls. The main protagonist Sarah, lives with her mum, older brother John, and younger sister Annie. The father had been a fisherman but had died at sea. Leaving the family destitute, they live as ‘cunning women’ or witches as the locals refer to them, making what money they can by mixing healing lotions and potions just to feed themselves. Feared and hated by the villagers, often treated cruelly, except for when those same villagers need a balm, or salve to cure an ailment, then they will turn up at the Haworth’s house, but only at night, they fear being seen going to the house. Sarah’s mother is also proficient at curses and spells, and uses them at times, but if caught she will hang. Sarah has resisted turning to the dark forces that are within her so far, she would rather focus on making potions that heal. She is terrified of any of them being caught and taken to the assizes.

Very protective of her little sister Annie, Sarah checks her every morning for the mark, a mark that she believes will show she is cursed, or if it’s seen by others will mark her as a witch and will see her hanged, a mark Sarah and her mother have, but not John. The story is set only a few years after the Pendle Witch trials which took place in the same area. But the marks they see are actually just birth marks as we know them to be today.

Sarah spies Daniel one day through a hedge taming a wild horse, she is initially wary, but soon romance starts to blossom between the two. But can it survive? Daniel is the only son of a farmer, how can it work?. Daniel is torn as to whether his feeling for Sarah are true or has she cast a spell on him bewitching him. Sarah is trying to fight the powers from taking hold of her, she doesn’t want to be like her mother, but can she hold them back? Especially when fury takes hold of her, it is harder to control those powers once they have been unleashed.

When the old magistrate is sacked and sent packing from the village a new one comes to take control. He is much harsher than the last one, he will rid the village of any person he believes to be a papist or a witch. Sarah is forever warning John to be careful, she knows that life is now more dangerous for them. Especially as they are the one family the Magistrate Wright is watching carefully.

This a very well crafted dark atmospheric story, of prejudice and superstition. Add to that love, jealousy, hatred and revenge and you have the perfect ingredients for a good read. Told from the POV of Daniel and Sarah which works well showing the two different insights.

I was really rooting for Sarah as she tried desperately to take care of her family, she was more like the mother than the mother. I don’t think the mother had ever really got over losing her husband. All Sarah wants is to be loved and to live a normal life, with a nice home, food on the table and a warm fire. But she is judged whichever way she turns. Daniel is a gentle soul, he has been mistreated by his father, as well as misunderstood by others around him, he is seen as weak. Gabriel the farmhand is jealous of Daniel, and will do what he can to destroy any happiness Daniel wants.

Although the story starts off quite slow the tension gradually builds and you just hope that everything will come right for Daniel and Sarah. But is their relationship doomed from the start? Or can they overcome all the odds and make it work?

Rich with details about the historical setting, with the use of herbs and the superstitions believed at those times. Along with some other good secondary characters, I loved how Bett helped Daniel and Sarah in their endeavours.

Overall a well written debut novel, I will certainly be looking out to see what the author comes up with next. This is perfect for lovers of historical fiction, with a little magic and witchcraft, sprinkled with romance.

I would like to thank the author Elizabeth Lee and the publishers for an ARC of this book, all thoughts and opinions are my own.


Elizabeth Lee won the Curtis Brown Creative Marian Keyes Scholarship, and her work has been selected for the Womentoring Project and Penguin’s WriteNow Live. She lives in Warwickshire.

Social Media: @EKLeeWriter

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