Audiobook Review | The Witches of Vardø

Back with another audiobook and a book that I wouldn’t usually gravitate towards.

The Witches Of Vardø
Anya Bergman

Norway, 1662. A dangerous time to be a woman, when even dancing can lead to accusations of witchcraft. When Zigri, desperate and grieving after the loss of her husband and son, embarks on an affair with the local merchant, it’s not long before she is sent to the fortress at Vardø, to be tried and condemned as a witch.

Zigri’s daughter Ingeborg sets off into the wilderness to try to bring her mother back home. Accompanying her on this quest is Maren – herself the daughter of a witch ­- whose wild nature and unconquerable spirit gives Ingeborg the courage to venture into the unknown, and to risk all she has to save her family.

Also captive in the fortress is Anna Rhodius, once the King of Denmark’s mistress, who has been sent to Vardø in disgrace. What will she do – and who will she betray – to return to her privileged life at court?

These Witches of Vardø are stronger than even the King of Denmark. In an age weighted against them they refuse to be victims. They will have their justice. All they need do is show their power. | Goodreads | The StoryGraph | Amazon

This isn’t a book I would ordinarily pick up but I felt like I kept seeing it everywhere and that reviews were generally favourable so I decided that I would like to give it a try and got the opportunity to listen to it as an audiobook.

I will start by saying that it is not an easy book to listen to, the injustice for the women in the story is enough to make you mad but that coupled with the emotion in the narrator’s voice at times made it quite a difficult listen for me. I had to take some breaks from listening because I felt like my emotions were getting a bit too tumultuous; the author can certainly create both wonderful and despicable characters and they had me oscillating between anger and joy regularly. It does have some pretty fantastic folklore tales interspersed throughout too that are a refreshing change in quite a heavy story.

The story is told from two main viewpoints, Ingeborg who is determined to try and save her mother who has been accused of being a witch and Anna who has been imprisoned on Vardø and tells her story in the form of letters written to the King. I quite liked switching between the two and getting to see very different perspectives, it highlighted how difficult it was for women no matter what choices they made or circumstances they were born into.

Ingeborg was such a resilient character, not always a character I felt fond of, but I appreciated how hard she fought to try and save her mother and that she remained a strong character even through the terrible things that she had to endure. Maren was a brilliant character, strong, defiant and a little mysterious, I liked that she was the one who fought back against the men and how they treated the women by leaning into any power that she could find, even if it was just perpetuating some of the actions they were calling witchcraft.

Anna is a more complex character, at first, you feel sorry for her, then she is put in a position that nobody would choose to be in and makes some choices that feel terrible and selfish but also understandable. It was tough to think about how her choice of self-preservation was to the detriment of other women and that there were probably many women who found themselves in that position.

I definitely enjoyed the story, even though it doesn’t feel right to use that word due to the book’s subject matter, I did find that there were parts I got through quickly and others that seemed to drag on a little but I was hooked by the end desperate to discover what was in store for the women on Vardø. I feel like the author did an amazing job of capturing the setting and the atmosphere and the utter repulsiveness of what was being blamed on witches and the punishments for the so-called witches, it is astonishing and infuriating all at once.

The narrator, Sofia Engstrand, did a wonderful job, she captured the unique voice of every character and I liked that she could pronounce the names and places the way they were supposed to be, it definitely makes a difference. I also loved that the author included a section at the end that shares some more information about the references she used but also gives us a little more insight into the real events on Vardø that inspired the book.

The Witches of Vardø is a dark and heavy story but it is handled with care and even in its more difficult parts it is one worth knowing, even though it may wring every sort of emotion out of you.


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