Every so often a book comes along that sounds so perfect, I worry I’m not going to like it (I’m looking at you, Essex Serpent.) This is one of those books- a historical ghost novel, set on the wild moors of West Yorkshire, my home county? SIGN. ME. UP. Plus, I’ve read and loved every novel that Katherine Clements has ever written and her female protagonists are always fascinating. (When I told Benn that I was reading a ghost story set in the past on a sheep farm in West Yorkshire, he looked at me and said “That’s your dream book, isn’t it?”)
Set in the years after the English Civil War, Mercy Booth lives with her father on the moors in a house with a formerly grand yet horrifying past. As much a part of the landscape as the sheep she raises, Mercy is a tough and formidable woman who distrusts all except those who are close to her. Life is good until a series of haunting events begins to unfold and a stranger arrives who may or may not be the ally she needs in uncertain times. It’s a powerful novel that explores what it meant to be a woman in a very male world; Mercy must defend those she loves, her livelihood and her position in the community from differing threats.
It’s also a cracking ghost story with an eerie atmosphere that kept me on my toes; was it really a ghost, or the shepherd’s young son causing havoc? There’s a lot here that kept me reading, often late into the night. There have been comparisons to Wuthering Heights and Daphne Du Maurier, but for me there’s something of the early Gothic novels about it. There’s a sense of unease that lasts even after I finished. It’s also a rare book that I found creeping into my dreams, like spilled ink.
Unlike another recent ghost story I’ve read, this one does not flirt with madness- at least not openly. Mercy is too solid a character to give into hysteria. This is a more grounded type of ghost story, with a strong protagonist and a creepy presence, perfect for those who like their historical fiction to flirt with the supernatural without being over the top.