Set during the witch hunts of the late 16th century in Trier, Germany, “Night of the Witch” is the story of Friedrike “Fritzi” and Otto Ernst. One, a witch, the other, a witch hunter. While on opposite sides of the hunt, both are trying to save family members and need each other to accomplish their goals.
The story’s setting centers around Trier, although there are glimpses of Fritzi’s village. I was fascinated to learn its Roman history and how the city has grown around it. There is even a discussion and history of the city’s Jewish quarter. Trier is so well described and incorporated into the plot that it’s almost a character itself, playing its own role in the conflicts and development of the other characters.
One of the central conflicts is when Otto and Fritzi have to decide whether they are going to trust the other enough to work together to save their family members. The stakes are so high and each one is on the opposite side of the deadly conflict. I wanted them to work together but not knowing what was going to happen, I also did not want one of them to trust the other only to be tricked and betrayed later on. As each character relates their thinking to the reader, it’s hard not to also feel the cognitive dissonance with which each one is grappling.
Being a hexenjäger, witch hunter, Otto seemingly has the upper hand and one word from him to the authorities and Fritizi is burning at the stake. At the same time, Otto needs Fritzi’s help in order to carry out his rescue plans. While most of us will not experience a conflict with someone at this dramatic level, I think we can all relate to a time in which we had to make a decision to work with someone, even though our instincts may have told us it would be a mistake. (It brought me flashbacks of the dreaded group or partner projects in school and work. *shudders*)
For me, a moment that stood out was when Fritzi is confronting Otto about how he is enabling the murder of so many “witches” in the name of God and Christianity. Otto has to wrestle with the idea that religious organizations/structures and God are sometimes two different things; an institution may commit atrocities in the name of God, but is that really the God the believers serve? I think it’s a question with which most people of faith wrestle.
This was a good read. I thought there was going to be more fantasy/magic, but it ended up being more historical fiction, and not in a bad way. I think some readers may be disappointed if they went into the book thinking there was going to be more magic. The cover and book jacket blurb are somewhat misleading that way. That being said, this was a four out of five star book for me and I’m looking forward to the sequel.