The Leviathan by Rosie Andrews
Raven Books, e-book, £7.13
Reviewed by Sarah Deeming
Norfolk, 1643, and Thomas Treadwater is summoned home from the civil war by a letter from his sister, Esther, claiming their new servant of having an improper relationship with their widowed father. When Thomas returns, things have escalated. Esther has accused the servant, Crissa Moore, of witchcraft. Chrissa is in prison and Thomas’s father is ill in bed. Thomas is a rational man, educated and forward-thinking. He believes there is more to his father’s illness and the loss of a flock of sheep to disease than witchcraft. But, as he starts to peel back the layers of accusations thrown at Chrissa Moore and the goings-on in his home while he was away, Thomas discovers a story of a shipwreck from years ago that may not be superstitious nonsense.
The Leviathan runs in two times, the past events explaining Thomas’s future. The story starts in 1703 in the present tense with Thomas reading an old document regarding a ship called the Guldern. Then we move to winter 1643/44, where most of the book takes place. Thomas is a young man returning wounded from the civil war.
Andrews builds tension fantastically, heaping misfortunes on Thomas from the start. The flock are dead in the field, his father is in bed with a stroke, the family name is tangled with witchcraft because of his sister’s accusations, and the wound Thomas received fighting is festering. The pages flew by. Andrews creates vivid scenes surrounding the witchfinder, John Rutherford. Rutherford struck a chord with me. As the magistrate’s nephew and the local witchfinder, he is in a position of authority, and fear, over everyone else. He shows little thought for other people’s feelings or the norms of society and acts as if he is above the law. That someone so full of self-importance was responsible for investigating an accusation of witchcraft really had me fearful for Chrissa. Andrews creates an intensely paranoid atmosphere and uses misdirection expertly, sweeping me along from revelation to revelation.
Unfortunately, the witchcraft aspect didn’t last for the whole book, and we moved to mythology and the Guldern. Although we a hint at the beginning, I don’t feel there was enough foreshadowing for the switch, so it felt a little unexpected. I’m keeping this review spoiler-free, so I won’t explain anything except it lacked the detail and tension as the first part. There wasn’t enough book space to do the myth element justice, which was a real shame as the book’s first half was so intense.
However, and I can’t stress this enough, Andrews is a powerfully emotive writer. The fact that some elements didn’t work for me won’t stop me from reading any of her future works. She is definitely an author to watch out for.