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  • Writer's pictureTerrie

A Spooky Read - The Witch in the Well

The Witch in the Well by Camilla Bruce

Genre: Fantasy

Publish Date Oct 4, 2022; 304 pages

Thanks so much to #netgalley and #macmillan #torforge for the advance copy of #thewitchinthewell for review - the opinions are my own.

First Sentence: "I remember it all so vividly, as if it were only yesterday. I just have to close my eyes and I'm there again, watching it all happen."

I've been on a lucky journey recently to come across a number of books that have an unusual presentation for a somewhat common plot. I love the surprise of a story well told in a different form than I expected.


This is the story of three women - Ilsbeth, Elena, and Cathy - and their intertwined lives. The unusual presentation? It's basically an epistolary novel. Each woman's story is told by their journal or book they've written. As the chapters switch between characters, we learn that Ilsbeth is 'the witch in the well' and was killed years ago because children had started disappearing and she was blamed. We get her story through the Nicksby papers which is the record of the manor house.

No spoiler, but early in the story, we learn Elena has been found dead and Cathy is a prime suspect. Elena and Cathy were childhood friends who grew apart but when Elena returns to town when her uncle dies, they find themselves rivals because each of them is intending to write a book about Ilsbeth. Elena is a free spirited, optimistic but lonely woman and tells her story in her daily journal. Cathy has been researching Ilsbeth for years and resents Elena's sudden appearance - her story is presented as an Open Letter to the City of F-- to try to explain the circumstances and history of their relationship.


I liked the epistolary style of telling this story. Each woman's voice was distinctly different so it wasn't difficult to keep them straight. Elena was a bit flighty, Cathy is a nasty, self-absorbed person, and Ilsbeth's style was more formal and used phrasing from the 1800s.

Atmospheric and almost gothic in tone sometimes, the old manor house is crumbling, the nearby woods are dark and foreboding, the lake and well water have long been toxic. Add to that these two feuding women and you have a disastrous mix. There's ghostly happenings, a daemon, two unstable women, which all makes for an intricate and interesting plot. It's not a scary book, but has its creepy moments. And can I just say there's definitely an unreliable narrator here - what in the world to believe?

COYER reading challenge #5/54

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