Book Review, Interview and Giveaway: Witchstruck by Victoria Lamb

If you’re a historical purist, than Witchstruck may not be the book for you. Lamb has woven together historical figures and events with fictional characters and the supernatural. It’s an unusual combination but one that I really, really enjoyed.

Set in 1554, Witchstruck introduces the story of Meg, servant to the closely guarded Elizabeth, and a practicing witch. It’s not long before a desperate Elizabeth turns to Meg for help, asking her to use her magic to foresee the future. Will she or won’t she be queen?

With growing political unrest, the arrival of a Spanish priest who seems determined to uncover her secrets and a ruthless witch hunter closing in on her, Meg finds herself in increasing danger. It’s not long before her loyalties are tested when she inadvertently becomes mixed up in treasonous plot that could see Elizabeth crowned, or executed, with Meg right alongside her.

I’ve always been drawn to stories about witchcraft, whether they lean towards the supernatural, featuring kick-ass women with actual powers, or focus on a more historical portrayal. Both fascinate me and Witchstruck, to my delight, is a combination of the two. Meg and her Aunt are both witches, a dangerous practice in Tudor England. In order to survive, Meg must hide who she really is, trusting no one, yet she cannot help but find herself drawn to Alejandro, a young priest sent to spy on Elizabeth’s household.

For those of you who know your Tudor history, Witchstruck is set at Woodstock Palace, where Elizabeth was imprisoned from 1554 – 1555 under the watchful eye of Sir Henry Bedingfield, who also appears briefly as a character in the book. Though the novel primarily focuses on Meg, Lamb incorporates historical events, such as Queen Mary’s phantom pregnancy, into the story. Throughout, Lamb manages to maintain a balance between fiction and history and the two flow together almost seamlessly, though I would have loved it if Elizabeth had played a greater part in the story. Lamb captures her renowned haughty and fiery personality perfectly, and I look forward to seeing more of her in the second book.

I also wish Marcus Dent had had a stronger presence, allowing more time for his character to be built up subtly, but this is only a small, niggling complaint. More importantly, Lamb nails Meg and Alejandro’s scenes and it was their relationship that really made this book for me. It’s been a while since an author managed to capture that flirtatious, sexual-tension between two characters that I love to read about and Lamb certainly succeeds with these two. The obstacles these two will have to overcome are nicely put into place in preparation for the next book and, aside from a surprise reveal at the end, are developed more organically than you often see in paranormal YA.

Witchstruck stands out as one of the few young adult novels set in Tudor England. I’ve read a lot of adult books set during this period, but working in fictional characters and the paranormal instead of sticking to pure historical fact, Lamb has given herself the freedom to write a story that is more adventure than political intrigue and I think that will appeal to a lot of readers.

Lamb has certainly impressed me with her debut YA, its one of the most enjoyable historical novels I’ve read in a long time, with a rich period setting, a relatable heroine, a disturbing villain and a slow-burn romance. I do wish we’d seen Meg use her power more, but since I’ve been promised further books I’m content to wait. I’m excited see where this series goes.

On the blog today I’ve got Victoria Lamb answering some questions about her new historical YA novel Witchstruck…

 Witchstruck is an interesting mixture of fictional characters, the supernatural and historical figures and events. What made you decide to set your story at Woodstock and include Elizabeth I and Sir Henry Bedingfield as characters, instead of keeping it completely fictional?

Right from the start, I wanted to create a fantasy story which was rooted in historical reality – or as close to reality as we can come when writing about real historical characters. The best way seemed to be to set the story of Meg Lytton’s coming of age as a witch against some major landmark of Tudor history, and since Elizabeth’s early history – her sister’s accusations of treason, her long imprisonment during Bloody Mary’s reign – had always been a source of great fascination for me, it was an obvious choice. I was also keen to have a cast of fairly young characters, all learning the limitations and cruelties of their world as the story progresses, so the young Princess Elizabeth fitted the bill nicely.

I rather liked Alejandro *cough*. Is he based on anyone in particular?

I always write my leading men as if they were me, but male. So Alejandro is roughly based on how I would ideally be if I were a young Spaniard in Tudor England. Does that make sense? He’s not based on my husband or an old flame, in other words. Though I rather wish I was married to him myself. (Sorry, darling!)

Apparently Witchstruck is the first in a planned five-book series. Are all five novels likely to follow Meg and Alejandro’s characters?

At the moment, we’re looking at three books initially, but with the strong likelihood of more to come if the series as a whole demands it. And yes, this is very much Meg and Alejandro’s story. I wouldn’t dream of not having those two in the very thick of the action.

Can you give us any teasers of what’s to come?

I can’t be too specific, but let’s just say the temperature really hots up in book two. Meg is forced to cast a spell so dangerous that it impacts on everyone in England, and Alejandro isn’t sure how long he can continue to turn a blind eye to Meg’s activities as a witch. Yet the chemistry between them is stronger than ever. What’s a would-be priest to do?

I really liked how you captured Elizabeth’s renound fiery temper. Will she become a more prominent character in the later books?

As I said, this series is very much Meg and Alejandro’s story. But Elizabeth is a constant presence throughout these books, sometimes supportive of their troubled love, sometimes a disapproving older sister figure for Meg – and who seems determined to keep them apart. The imprisoned Tudor princess provides a historical context for their relationship, constantly tests their loyalties, and reminds the reader how dangerous the times are for all of them.

It’s clear you have a passion for history! If you could, is there a particular era/event/Tudor court you’d like to go back to and experience first hand?

As a writer I find the Tudor court’s complexity and intrigue fascinating, but as a reader I probably love the Regency era best, the time against which Jane Austen’s stories are set. What I wouldn’t give to be a carefully restrained Regency heroine, being wooed by a very correct but inwardly smouldering gentleman!

What kind of research did you do for the book?

I’m lucky enough to have a Reader’s Card for the Bodleian Library, one of the best research libraries in the world, so am often to be found there with my head in a book. It helps that I love research, but prefer the actual writing, otherwise I would probably never have got started on chapter one.

Can you share any interesting/unusual tidbits or facts about Tudor England you came across during your research?

I love that Tudor dresses were not one-piece dresses like the ones we wear today! Tudor dresses were made up of a foreskirt which had to be attached to a sleeveless bodice or top half. Often there was no front to the skirt either (a decorative petticoat or ‘kirtle’ would show through a V-shaped opening instead). Most sleeves were just laced onto the bodice as required, so could be mix and match, though very heavy jewelled sleeves would need to be sewn laboriously into place, and unpicked at bedtime. That’s why dressing and undressing a wealthy noblewoman often took several hours and numerous female helpers. So next time you see a Tudor film where the women slip easily in and out of their gowns …

Witchstruck is your debut YA novel, although I believe you also have a historical adult novel out this year as well. Do you write differently or have a different process when writing for a younger audience?

I don’t have a different process as far as I’m aware, and I don’t adjust my narrative voice particularly, but I probably write more freely for YA readers. Adult historical novels are often required to be quite dense in detail and heavy on political content, and although I love to delve into those areas, it’s rather more fun to write fast-paced adventure scenes. I would say that adventure is closest to the kind of stories I like to read myself, so much of the time I’m writing for myself with YA stories, whereas I’m probably more aware of an outside ‘reader’ with my adult books.

The Tudor period is a very popular era for historical fiction – what would you say makes Witchstruck stand out from all the others?

Well, for a start, it’s not that common to write YA Tudor fiction, so that’s a stand-out on its own. But I also think the adventure element is probably quite unusual too in combination with paranormal romance. I’ve never been satisfied with books that don’t include a thriller or adventure element, so it tends to be my first consideration when putting a new plot together, i.e. is this story going to be exciting enough?

A big thanks to Victoria for agreeing to take part in an interview! Make sure you stop by Jera’s Jamboree tomorrow on the Witchstruck blog tour to find out more about the book!

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