Title: The Blood List
Author: Sarah Naughton
Publisher: Simon and Schuster UK Children's
Source: ARC via Netgalley
Buy it: Here
When sixteen year old Frances gives birth to a dark haired, screaming baby boy, her maid and even her own husband are convinced he is a Changeling; a baby switched by fairies in place of their real son. Despite Frances' protests, the child is left in the woods alone to be returned to the fairies. By morning, a shining blonde haired boy is in his place - the Changeling seemingly gone. Barnaby is the apple of his father's eye, while his mother is bitter towards him, believing he is not her son and never was. She showers affection upon his younger brother Abel instead, leading to a rivalry between the boys that will end in bloodshed.
The Blood List has a great subject matter; missing children, counterfeit babies, witchcraft and superstition all in a 1600's setting. I had visions of a YA novel along the lines of a re-imagining of Ken Follet's Pillars Of The Earth - (a good thing, by the way!) - and for a lot of the book, this is exactly what I felt I got. There are richly created characters from all walks of life; wealthy landowners, house maids, farmers, priests and, of course, "witches". I enjoyed reading about how each character is perceived by the village, but also how they are treated in the eyes of the varying characters. For instance, one of the maids feeds and houses suspected "witches" while the rich turf them out into the cold. At the end of the book I learned that some of the book's characters are based on real historical accounts, which made them all the more interesting.
Despite this, though, I didn't feel as though I could really relate to any of the characters. A great many of them were unlikeable and I found it difficult to want to root for anyone the narrative. This, in turn, made the novel feel quite fractured. At times I felt as if I had picked up three or four books laced together. At the start, I felt hugely for Frances as she struggled to keep her son from harm, but, after her chapter, Frances barely makes an appearance of any meaning, as Barnaby takes centre stage for the rest of the book. Barnaby's story of cock-sure rivalry was a stark contrast to that of Frances' maternal despair.
Equally, the themes seem to jump around as much as the alignment of the characters. At one minute I was reading a story of changelings and fairies, and the next I found myself reading a story of friendship and conquest of young love. Next I would find myself plunged into a story of witch hunts only to end up at a story of the Plague. I didn't find this confusing, but there were certainly noted changes in focus. It felt like it didn't quite hang together as well as it could have.
That said, I wholly enjoyed Sarah Naughton's writing style. She had a wonderful sense of sarcasm and cynicism, which could only come from hindsight in writing historical fiction, but which translated so well into her characters. I found myself smirking at the page on many occasions and I found it easier to forget the bad feelings I may have had elsewhere.
The Blood List is a fun historic novel that mixes superstition and reality wonderfully. However, I feel that a fractured flow to the storytelling and a lack of characters to root for let this book down a bit. That said, I would definitely look to read more by this author, as I enjoyed the sarcasm and approach to witchcraft throughout the novel, and would love to see it employed in new literary circumstances! Definitely a book worth reading.