'Utterly compulsive' Daily Telegraph
'A gripping gothic read' Sarah Hall, Guardian
'So seductive ... I was hooked' Independent
The Forest of Pendle used to be a hunting ground, but some say that the hill is the hunter - alive in its black-and-green coat cropped like an animal pelt.
Good Friday, 1612. Two notorious witches await trial and certain death in Lancaster Castle, whilst a small group gathers in secret protest. Into this group the self-made Alice Nutter stakes her claim and swears to fight against the rule of fear. But what is Alice's connection to these witches? What is magic if not power, and what will happen to the women who possess it?
To open The Daylight Gate is to be thrust into an England most Americans will have trouble believing ever existed. It's a wild, superstitious place where the king (James I, Protestant son of the very Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots) has minions who prosecute (and, arguably, persecute) people suspected of witchcraft or Catholicism. Winterson starts with the historical record the 1612 Lancashire Witch Trial really happened and adds poetry, possibility, Shakespeare, Elizabethan Magus John Dee, a sexy priest on the run, a lifelong love between two women, and best of all, her version of real-life accused witch Alice Nutter. Using the fact that Nutter was from a different class than the group she was tried and executed with, Winterson creates a character straight out of fantasy. Alice is vividly beautiful, suspiciously young-looking, and while not a witch herself, acquainted with what witches call the "Left-Hand Path," having worked with Dee on his alchemy and seen her female lover sell her soul to the devil, here called "the Dark Gentleman." Disliked for her power and fearlessness she rides astride and harbors suspected witches on her land when the hunts for Catholics and witches converge, so too do her past and present. The book is short, violent (both torture and magic are depicted with full goriness), and absorbing. The language is simple and sometimes lovely, and to say that the book could have gone the extra mile and been a graphic novel is not to damn it, but to recognize the pleasure in its intensely visual qualities.