Bookclub Questions - HER KIND

Welcome! I designed this page for Book Clubs and other readers, or anyone remotely curious about Her Kind and the story behind it! There are many possible questions, what follows are just a few suggestions - if you have anything you'd like added, feel free to get in touch though the contact form.



A masterpiece… Boyce delicately unfolds this atmospheric, magical thriller with pace and juice.  Sunday Independent.

Gripping ... a complicated story of loss, ambition, misogyny, family love and what it means to belong ... evocative and atmospheric.' Irish Times

'Beautifully written and transports us to the 14th century, though its themes loudly resonate today.'

'A beautifully absorbing novel, illuminating the remarkable story of a woman whose life has since been subsumed into folklore. Highly recommended.' Hot Press

A literary thriller based on the first witchcraft trial in Europe.

Her Kind is a re-imagining of the 1324 Sorcery Trial of Dame Alice Kytler. It was a landmark case in the history of witchcraft trials, the first case of a woman accused of having a demon lover (an incubus) and leading a sect of sorceresses - it was also the first time in Europe that someone was burned as a witch. 

The case was notorious at the time, but was subsequently relegated to folklore – until now. The judges of the EU Prize for literature, called Her Kind 'as searing a critique of our own times as is Arthur Millar's The Crucible.'

Book Club Questions

Q. Alice Kytler was a powerful, mature woman. Are older women still likely to be demonized for being independent? 

Q. The Sorcery Trial of Alice Kytler was notorious at the time - many of the annals contain a reference to the case. Did you know about it before you read the book? Did you know that the first woman to be accused of leading a sect and having a demon lover, lived in Ireland?

 Q. If there was a point of no return in the book, a point where things were never going to be the same again – where do you think that was?

Q. The word witch – how does its use differ nowadays? Can you still destroy someone’s reputation by calling them a name? What names have the same affect now as ‘witch’ did, in medieval times?

Sorcery, religion, politics, greed, privilege, power – all pale in comparison to what one finds at the heart of this story: that natural connection, the love of a mother for her child.(Historical Novels Review) 

Q. What did you think about the relationship between mothers and daughters in the book? Between Petronelle and Basilia, or Lithgen and Petronelle? Are they different to relationships nowadays?

Q. How are names significant in the telling of Her Kind, and the power relationships between the characters?  

Boyce’s depiction of life in 14th century Kilkenny is so evocative and atmospheric the reader can almost taste the honeycombs in Petronelle’s carefully tended hives and feel the heavy animal pelts that line Alice’s secret chamber. (Irish Times)

Q. Medieval Ireland was a melting pot – full of different languages and customs. Were you surprised to learn how diverse Ireland was, that it was a fractured place, full of tribes and walled towns – not one united entity?

Q. What do you think Ledrede’s real motivation for accusing Alice Kytler of witchcraft was?

Q. Was Alice undone by her love for her husband?

The characters are part of a world that at times is utterly alien to us, and one of the most haunting aspects of the novel is the depiction of anchoress, the holy woman who has been bricked alive into the walls of St Canice’s Cathedral. ( Irish Times)

Q. Did you know about the anchorites before reading Her Kind? That there were women and men who lived such lives by choice? 

Q. Who do you think Agnes, the anchoress, really was? Why was she locked between the walls?

‘The cathedral was also where I came across the anchoress’s grave. An anchorite or anchoress is a hermit who gives up ordinary life for a solitary life of prayer – they are often sealed in between the walls of a church, with only small ‘squints’ or windows to receive food through. The figure of a nun is carved onto the anchoress’s grave stone.  Her hands are held in old style prayer position, palm facing outwards rather than palms together. When I placed my palms over her stone ones, I felt a strange sensation, close to the one that Petronelle describes in Her Kind, that of an old truth pushing back – that day the character of Agnes the anchoress came to life.’ (Niamh Boyce)

Q. How did you feel towards Alice? Towards Petronelle? Towards Basillia? Towards Ledrede? Did you prefer one character over another? 

Q. What was the real cause of Sir Johns illness? Who was behind it?

Q. In 14th century, the Pope was based in Avignon, France and he had a lively fear of sorcery and witchcraft. He accused members of his own court of sticking pins in his waxen likeness.  Richard Ledrede, was one of his more favoured clerics. He gave him the Bishopric of Ossory in Ireland. Richard, an Englishman, had never set foot in the country yet within a few weeks of his arrival, he was making accusations against his parishioners… 
Was it inevitable that someone like Richard Ledrede would make accusations of sorcery against one of the residents of Kilkenny?
The novel is beautifully written and transports us to the 14th century, though many of its themes loudly resonate today. I can’t wait to see where Niamh Boyce takes us next. (RTE Guide) 
Q. Was the world of Her Kind familiar or strange to you? What had you expected medieval Ireland to be like? How was it different? What resonated? 

Q. The case is well documented by historians and academics. There are several interesting explorations. Why do you think the case remains outside of the standard history book?

Q. There is no reference to this trial in the ancient Liber Primus Kilkennius as it stands today. Yet it records many less significant cases from the time. Do you think that it was undocumented, or that references were removed from this record of the goings on in 14th Kilkenny?

Q. Would you have preferred to live outside or inside the walls of Kilkenny City?

Q. Medieval women (who aren’t royal) are often viewed as passive, as chattel - Dame Alice was an incredibly powerful moneylender. If Ledrede had not accused her of witchcraft, we may never have even known that a woman of her kind existed. Do you think she was unique for a woman of her time? 

Q. On arriving in Hightown, Petronelle and her daughter are given new names and clothes, and are forbidden to speak their native language. They are seen as ‘other’ in their own country. What affect do you think this has on their relationship, their sense of identity?

Q. Ledrede’s words and phrases are woven throughout the novel, as factual and fiction weave – why do you think has not been given first person narration, the way Petronelle and Basillia have been

Q. Her Kind is based on a real trial - a landmark case in the history of witchcraft - did that affect how you felt about the characters and their fate? Had you heard of the case before this? Why do you think this is?

Q. This was a hugely significant case yet there’s been no memorial or monument to Petronella de Midia, as yet. Ledredes effigy can be seen in St Canice’s Cathedreal to this day. Who decides who we, as people, remember? What happens to those who are not commemorated, listed, archived, named? Whose names are on the streets of your town, who is your local bridge named after? If you open a map, what do the names tell you? What do they mean? Is that meaning still alive?  Do these things matter? Who is mapping our history for us? 

Q. If you were to retrieve a voice from history, whose would it be?

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