Thursday, 16 March 2017

The Witchfinder's Sister by Beth Underdown
Release Date: 2nd March 2017
Publisher: Penguin
Genres:  Historical Fiction

Escape into the biggest historical debut of 2017: the true story of the 1640s Essex witch trials, for fans of The Miniaturist, Sarah Waters and The Essex Serpent.

'VIVID AND TERRIFYING' Paula Hawkins, author of The Girl on the Train
'If you loved The Essex Serpent...then you may have met your new favourite' Apple Books

'The number of women my brother Matthew killed, so far as I can reckon it, is one hundred and six...'

1645. When Alice Hopkins' husband dies in a tragic accident, she returns to the small Essex town of Manningtree, where her brother Matthew still lives.

But home is no longer a place of safety. Matthew has changed, and there are rumours spreading through the town: whispers of witchcraft, and of a great book, in which he is gathering women's names.

To what lengths will Matthew's obsession drive him?
And what choice will Alice make, when she finds herself at the very heart of his plan?

'At once a feminist parable and an old-fashioned, check-twice-under-the-bed thriller' Patrick Gale

'A tense, surprising and elegantly-crafted novel' Ian McGuire, author of The North Water

'A richly told and utterly compelling tale, with shades of Hilary Mantel' Kate Hamer, author of The Girl in the Red Coat

'Anyone who liked Cecilia Ekback's Wolf Winter is going to love this' Natasha Pulley, author of The Watchmaker of Filigree Street

'Beth Underdown cleverly creates a compelling atmosphere of dread and claustrophobia... Even from the distance of nearly four hundred years, her Matthew Hopkins is a genuinely frightening monster' Kate Riordan

'Superb: dark, terrifying and utterly compelling' Tracy Borman

It is 1645 and Alice Hopkins is telling us a tale that will seem almost unbelievable but is sadly true. A tale of her brother Matthew, a man obsessed with hunting down the women he believes are witches. A self proclaimed witch hunter who keeps a ledger with the names of the women he questions. The names of women he terrifies. Alice, from the very beginning lets us know that she herself is a prisoner of her brother, locked away in a room somewhere. Initially we are not aware of the circumstances of Alice's imprisonment but through her diary and telling of her tale the reader is soon introduced to an age where a single word from a disgruntled neighbour or superstitious beliefs could lead to a woman being singled out as a witch. Alice's account of the period of time she is forced to live in her brother's house after becoming a widow is a story of an oppressed woman living in constant fear and wholly dependent on the charity of her brother to ensure she eats and has a roof over her head. 

Alice's account of her and her brother's personal history and the events that lead up to what can only be described as a witch hunt and persecution of innocent women during a period of history when women were thought so little of, makes for some engrossing reading. The fact that the story is based on fact also did send a chill to my very bones. 

Matthew had always been a strange sort of child. During his infancy, Matthew is badly scarred during an accident, leaving him with a facial disfigurement. So as well as displaying strange behaviour his entire life, Matthew contends with comments about his appearance. Their father was a minister and their mother clearly suffered from some form of mental illness and Alice fears that Matthew may also be ill. There is an air of mystery surrounding Matthew's injuries and a fear and mistrust of Alice's mother in law who had been a servant in their home.

What struck me most about this book is the undercurrent of fear that runs throughout it. The deep and dark oppression that Alice and the women in the story feel and the reality that their fate rests with the men in power. The men who decide who is a witch and who isn't. Who dies and who doesn't.

I really enjoyed this book. Its an unusual and intriguing story that really did keep me glued to the pages. The insidious fear that was so prevalent throughout the story almost jumped right off the pages of the book, seeping into me. The story will stay with me for quite a while. Brilliantly well written, I love the language of the book which totally reflects the era perfectly and the subject matter is fascinating, if not a little shocking in places. The Witchfinder's Sister is definitely one of my recommended reads. A nice little twist at the end too! 


Beth Underdown was born in Rochdale in 1987. She studied at the University of York and then the University of Manchester, where she is now a Lecturer in Creative Writing.

The Witchfinder’s Sister is her debut novel, and is based on the life of the 1640s witch finder Matthew Hopkins.

She first came across him while reading a book about seventeenth-century midwifery. As you do. 

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