Friday, 3 June 2011

Wolves Among Us: A Novel by Ginger Garrett

This is a title that I came across by pure chance a few weeks ago. I was intrigued by the synopsis and the idea of the witch hunts in Germany and so decided to purchase it.

Author: Ginger Garrett is an author that I hadn't heard of before. It would seem that she is moderately well known on the American market for a series called The Chronicles of the Scribe. The book was relatively expensive, $15 or €16 but I decided to go for it anyway. She writes in American English.

Presentation: This is a large paperback with good quality paper. The writing is a moderate size, the lines well-spaced. There are 283 pages - plus an after words section - broken down into 28 chapters mostly of more or less the same length.

Story: The quite village of Dinfoil is thrown into turmoil following the double murder of one of the villagers and his wife. Father Stefan, the long-standing village priest, wants to call for an Inquisitor to give an ending to this horrible event; Bjorn, the sheriff, has his own reasons for not wanting to bring an Inquisitor to their little village. Father Stefan calls for him anyway and Bjorn soon finds the answers to all his worries in one concept: witchcraft.
Mia is struggling to be a good wife to Bjorn: she is caring for his disabled mother and their sick child, she keeps their house clean when his work keeps him away at all hours, and she defers to him in all matters. She is also trying to hide her past from the other villagers, scared that if they know about it they will shun her even more than they already do. She tries desperately to be a good Christian, to gain God's favour in the hopes that he will heal her daughter - her reason for being. Father Stefan cruelly informs her that God does not heal her child because she is guilty of the sin of pride. So Mia redoubles her efforts to be a good wife to a man who does not care about her.
Soon, the Inquisitor Bastion arrives, a caged witch in tow, and informs the villagers that their little village is overrun with witches, women who cast spells on the men to make them sin, or cast curses on the other women. Mass hysteria ensues as numerous women are accused of, and then trailed for, witchcraft.
Note: The synopsis is a little misleading. It says that they "discover the power of love over fear" but it is not romantic love, it is God's love.

Thoughts and impressions: At times Mia frustrated me because of her meekness, the way she'd just present herself as a doormat for the men to walk all over, but at the same time I am fully aware that this was a woman's lot in that day and age. I felt sorry for her, with all that she had to put up with. It was refreshing to have a German setting as most of the books I've read about the witch trials tend to be set in Salem. There was quite a claustrophobic feel to the story, with it never leaving the village and the story did, of course, have quite a dark feel to it, but how could it have been light considering its subject?
At various points throughout the story it is obvious that the author is a devout Christian and that she is putting her own thoughts and beliefs into the mouths of her characters. This led to some points in the story that I believe I was just supposed to take on faith. As I am not Christian and I look for a scientific explanation wherever I can, that left the story wanting at certain points. Why is Alma (the daughter) suddenly healed by a man with a glowing face who appears in Mia's dream? Why does Alma not suffer again after that? Why does God supposedly come to help Mia but he ignores all the other abused women in the village? Why does he talk to Stefan? Why does he appear before Bjorn? While some of these are just points in passing, others are not. Especially Alma's sickness. For the first half of the book she has difficulty breathing, then she seems to be on the point of dying, Mia dreams of a man whose face is so bright she cannot look upon it, and then when she wakes up Alma is suddenly better and no longer suffers from any breathing problems. There is no explanation given beyond that it was God's work. That is not an explanation that I accept. Alma had a medical problem and medical problems do not suddenly cure themselves, no matter how hard you pray.
Stefan was very possibly my favourite character. At first I didn't like him very much, but he realised that he was the one who invited disaster to their village and that he was the one who needed to fix the situation. He stepped up to the mark, overcoming fear, and did what had to be done. I admire the courage of the character for that.
The ending, or rather the post-ending, was something of a let down. Mia finds someone else, which is good for her, but that person is someone she had no contact with during the story. I would have preferred a better lead-in to that situation.

Style: Nothing in particular to say about the style. It was well-written and the wording flowed very well. It was able to draw me in with very little effort after the first couple of chapters.

Final verdict: I am hesitating between 3 and 4 stars with this one. I'm tempted to go for 4 but all of the questions that I'm just supposed to take on faith were a let down for me. 3 stars but closer to 4.

Extra notes: There is no sex in this story and only one scene with a kiss. No strong language is used. However, there are darker themes present such as burning women at the stake. In my opinion, this is a book aimed more at an adult audience.


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