Arden has lived in the woods near the deeply religious town of Arrothburg all her life, practising magic and keeping balance with nature. She heals the sick, as her mother did before her. No matter how deeply the people of the village hate witches, they still arrive at Arden’s cabin in the dead of night, looking for help that their pastor, mayor, and doctor would never provide.
Verity is trapped in a life she doesn’t want. Her mother was burned as a witch six years ago, forcing Verity into the role of caretaker for her father and her younger siblings. The Good Book asks her to serve, and so she does. But it also asks her to endure the ungodly, debilitating agony of her monthly bleeding. No medicine, no comfort, no protests. If God is kind, why is she so cursed?
When a chance encounter between them leaves both their skin charred at a single touch, Arden and Verity are left with questions that may get them killed.
Does something wicked live inside Verity?
If Arden is the only true witch for miles, who is burning on the pyres?
Will they be next?
This Too Shall Burn is a new dark fantasy novel, written by Cat Rector, which encloses a big feminist message, drawing parallelism between nowadays and the novel setting, especially regarding female care and how it is neglected many times due to religion/social beliefs. A story told from two perspectives, Arden, a witch who helps other women practising health care, and Verity, a young and pious girl whose mother was burnt as a witch.
On the one hand, we have Arden, a witch, who has lived near the religious town of Arrothsburg; as her mother did before, she heals the sick. Even if the villagers hate witchery and her, they arrive to Arden's cabin, looking for the care the authority figures don't give especially to women.
On the other hand, we have Verity, the eldest daughter of a burnt woman, who is expected to assume the role of taking care of her younger siblings and her father; she does it as the Good Book tells them. She's really sweet, but also really devoted to the religion, a religion that asks her to endure her monthly bleeding without any help or remedies; a bleeding that each time becomes more painful and debilitating.
Those two characters get their paths crossed, in a chance encounter which leaves both of their skins burnt, leaving them with many questions that they need to answer, but which might get them burnt by the authorities.
Verity is full of doubts, thinking if it might be possible that something wicked is inside herself. As a deeply religious person, she feels guilty and a traitor to the Good Book; but at the same time, what she's learning now is bringing help to other women, so in reality, is this bad at all? We can see her struggling, questioning if the beliefs Arrothsburg holds are just plain wrong; Arden is opening a new world to her.
Arden is confused after the meeting with Verity, but soon finds in her somebody she can trust for help. She has been taking care of sick people in Arrothsburg all her life, even if she's despised for being a witch; without her, many women would have died, especially because of the negligent practices of Arrothsburg's doctor. She also has a great relationship with the nature, and also tries to preserve it from destruction caused by men's hand; she's greatly protective of "her people", and is troubled because women are being burnt in Arrothsburg accused of witchery, something that shouldn't be possible, as Arden is the only practicing in the zone.
Around those characters, Rector has created a setting profoundly marked by the religiousness and the zealotry; derived from it, sexism is deeply ingrained into the society, putting women on a second level that is even dangerous for their health. The puritanism forces them to pass their monthly bleeding alone, without any kind of help and relief, deemed as impure; many women experiencing a pain that is not normal or even healthy for them (drawing a parallelism with a situation that is sadly too common nowadays, as painful periods are a medical condition which should be treated).
In this context of puritanism, any women that can be seen as smart or practicing natural remedies is called a witch and ostracised from society; even burnt at the stake. Women are being left/mistreated by the same figures that should be taking care of them, represented in the figure of a doctor who is furiously negligent. Arden practises her art and saving many lives while remaining hidden, only safe because she can defend herself.
You can clearly read how this is a novel about feminism and fighting the situations that break the equality; it's enraging at many points, especially because you see how many aspects that should remain fictional are still present nowadays, with many women being denied cares that could make their lives better. Authority should be taking care of those under them, not using power to just gain more of it.
Cat Rector has written a novel that I think it's a must read for anybody, a big ode to feminism; if we knew of Rector as a great author with the Unwritten Runes series, I can say that it has become an autoread with This Too Shall Burn. Do yourself a favour, and pick this novel as soon as possible.
Cat Rector grew up in a small Nova Scotian town and could often be found simultaneously reading a book and fighting off muskrats while walking home from school. She devours stories in all their forms, loves messy, morally grey characters, and writes about the horrors that we inflict on each other. After spending nearly a decade living abroad, she returned to Canada with her spouse to resume her war against the muskrats. When she’s not writing, you can find her playing video games, spending time with loved ones, or staring at her To Be Read pile like it's going to read itself.