Weyward is a novel about three women in three different time periods but from the same family line — the Weyward women. It is a story of women who don’t fit, who are “wayward,” and as such are feared and abused. Yet this is also about women who find their strength in that which sets them apart and who learn to love and empower themselves as a result. There are some supernatural elements to this story, and while I think that adding the supernatural to a story runs the danger of backfiring and making the story ridiculous, it works for me in Weyward.
Emilia Hart alternates chapters amongst her three main characters. Altha is a young woman accused of being a witch and imprisoned in 1619. Kate is 29 in 2019 and trapped in an abusive relationship. Violet in 1942 is a teenager whose mother is long dead and whose father seems to dislike her, keeping her stuck on their manor while her brother gets to go off to school. Each character’s life involves domineering and abusive men, and each character will also have to deal with matters of pregnancy — both wanted and unwanted.
All of the characters’ story arcs are interesting and unfold in ways that keep the reader riveted. Even when you think you know what is going to happen, Hart finds ways to surprise you. For Altha, reading her version of being imprisoned and on trial is made the more interesting by knowing that she is narrating this post-trial. The trial contains the kind of historical detail you would expect; Altha is accused of causing the death of a local man who was trampled by his own cattle simply because she ran to help after it happened and everyone knew she and her mother were odd, possibly witches. But later, Altha reveals what actually happened on the day the man died and all the events leading up to it. Kate is a woman who feels incredible guilt about the death of her father when she was little, and who has gotten swept up in a relationship with a man who is rich, power and sadistic. When we meet her, she has decided to grab what she can and run away, knowing that her great aunt Violet has left a cottage in the North to her where she can hide. Kate also discovers that she is pregnant and her greatest fear is what her boyfriend Simon would do to her and a baby if he were to find out. Kate is fearful of nature and animals but is going to have to get over that if she is to make it on her own. I think Kate’s story might have been the most predictable of the three but I still found myself tense and on edge as I read it. Violet’s story is the saddest in my opinion. Violet is a smart girl whose circumstances keep her imprisoned and ignorant. She reads everything she can get her hands on, including her brother’s science texts from school. Violet is interested in biology and entomology, and she is also interested in learning what really happened to her mother, but no one at the manor will answer her questions. When a cousin Frederick visits the manor on leave from fighting WWII, we can see that something horrible is going to befall Violet. When it does, Violet is banished to a small cottage that had been her mother’s, and she begins to learn the family secrets and the talents of Weyward women.
While this novel is ultimately empowering and shows women who are able to face their tormentors and recognize their own worth, this only happens after horrible tragedies involving women’s bodies. For some people, these scenes may be triggering, but they are, sadly, the kinds of things we know happen to women and girls all the time. The overall message is about women’s need to control their own bodies and destinies, and our need for friends/allies who can help us realize that.