Twelve-year-old Art Flynt lives in a village in Scotland with her mother, Agnes, who understands herbs and their properties, and makes potions for healing people. This is 1647 though, and such skill and knowledge are thought by many to mean that a person, usually a woman, is a witch. Sure enough, word comes that English soldiers are coming, and although they all hide, Agnes and five other women are loaded into carts and the five are immediately executed after a brief ‘trial’. Art had been more safely hidden, but, no longer welcome in the village, she discovers that Agnes is being taken to the Witchfinder General in Manningtree, disguises herself as a boy, and sets off to rescue her mother on Lady, her horse, armed with a sword, ropes, and her mother’s recipe book.
The forest of the title seems to spread over most of the East of England, as Art makes her way across the border, but it is in this forest that she meets people who help her. She rescues Mercy, whose mother was also a healer and was hanged, from being tested to see if she drowns or floats, and they become very close, and a boy who starts off as an enemy eventually changes sides. The girls have both learned about the healing properties of plants, and this binds them together. Of course, Agnes is rescued, but the events leading up to this are all very exciting. Art enjoys practicing walking a tightrope, and this turns out to be a useful skill, though she has to walk further than she has ever done before, and this is a nail-biting scene. The Witchfinder General, Matthew Hopkins, is indeed a character in this book, but in real life he retired, and did not meet his end as described here (and in the 1968 film!).
Amy Raphael is a journalist and writer of several books of non-fiction, but this is her first novel for children. It certainly is exciting, though a different title might be more enticing. The Moon seems to refer to moonstone amulets, and Art does have to use her sword a couple of times, but it gives little idea of the topic of the story. However, this small glimpse of life in another time, dramatically described, could be a useful addition to a library. DB