THE DEVIL’S MISTRESS
by David Barclay
Published by Silver Shamrock
Available in paperback and eBook
Isabella Ashford’s life is spiralling downhill quickly. Her father is sick and getting worse each day and he has arranged her marriage to a man she does not love. With her life, family and home at risk, she seeks out help from a mysterious lady of the hill, who’s said to have potions and spells that can help Isabella with her dilemmas. Will it be enough to set her life back on the right path or has she bitten off more than she can chew?
Set in the town of Blackfriar, Virginia in year 1705, David Barclay’s period horror thriller THE DEVIL’S MISTRESS is a dark, tragic tale of love, persecution and revenge in a time where accusations often had life-changing consequences, especially where the subject of witchcraft is concerned.
Our main character Isabella is a spoilt madam in many ways but not really through any fault of her own. As she’s lived a sheltered life, she expects everyone to do as she says, even the stable hand/servant boy who’s getting himself into trouble by following her wild instruction. She’s a free-willed young woman, too modern for the world she lives in, and her free-spirited character doesn’t go down well with the society she belongs to. Though she has faults, she’s a likeable character from the beginning who has good intentions and love at the core of her being and will go to extreme lengths in order to save the ones she cares about. Unfortunately, she finds out first hand just how backward-thinking her fellow townsfolk are as they descend upon her like a pack of wolves.
If you’ve ever wondered what it might be like to be accused, blamed and punished for something you’ve not done, imagine what the poor women accused of witchcraft had to go through. Damned either way to die, be it by drowning or by being burnt alive, it must’ve been a terrifying experience and here author David Barclay puts us in the shoes of an innocent woman accused of something she did not commit. The drawn out punishment and pain the character endures is truly horrifying and reading the ongoing accusations as her treatment worsens is unnerving to consume. It’s easy for a bystander, such as the reader, to hold out hope but it’s truly terrifying to put yourself in her shoes and observe everything that happens whilst feeling as though your voice has been taken away.
These scenes aren’t the only horrific experience in the book. Early on in the story we meet Isabella’s fiance, Thomas Huxley, who’s every bit the psychopathic rich kid. Heir to his father’s fortune, he’s the ticket to a comfortable life but his treatment of servants in the household, like a piece of furniture out of the Korova milkbar, provide a glimpse of his warped mind and brutal capabilities. It’s tough to read and you feel for those who are forced to be around him. If he can do that to his servants, what would he do to his wife-to-be?
This frightening period thriller combines with folk fantasy and the supernatural to change feel and direction in the latter third of the book which I admit I found a bit jarring at times. The driving pace is maintained throughout though and leaves you trying to catch your breath as Isabella finds herself up against the clock. Barclay’s descriptive language plunges you into the story and leaves you desperate to cling on for survival in a world that seems to try to fight you all the way.