Title: The Witchfinder’s Sister
Author: Beth Underdown
Published: March 2nd 2017
Genre: Adult, Historical Fiction, Paranormal
Length: 368 pages
Source: Proof copy from Publisher
Book Blurb (via Goodreads):
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 has no choice but to return 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 witches, and of a great book, in which her brother is gathering women’s names.
To what lengths will her brother’s obsession drive him?
And what choice will Alice make, when she finds herself at the very heart of his plan?
I’ve not read many books about witches. Even less about witch-hunting and trials. This book appealed to me because of it’s hook – one hundred and six women killed by a single man hunting down supposed witches. I was intrigued to see what lurked between the pages and, while I was slightly disappointed because it wasn’t quite what I had expected, I thoroughly enjoyed this read.
Alice Hopkins has just lost her husband and is on her way back to her home town to live with her brother, Matthew. When she arrives, she finds her brother isn’t the same boy she remembered from when she left and has a strange new power within their small town. As the months wear on, talk of witches turns to active hunts and her brother is at the forefront of it all. Alice tries her best to help those that she can, but is it really enough?
I’ll admit, going into this book I was expecting a more vivid and heinous description of women being dragged kicking and screaming to the gallows or the pyre. And while I was disappointed with the lack of action that went on, the inner thoughts of Alice as she watches her brother turn down the dark path of witch hunting was just as interesting to read.
Poor Alice really has been put through the ringer in life. She fell in love with and married the son of a servant. Being the daughter of a minister, her brother didn’t take too kindly to her marrying below her station. They parted on poor terms and now that her husband has died, Alice is seeing her brother for the first time in five years.
I personally loved the first person, diary-like perspective we were given into the events that Alice was forced to follow in the months following her arrival back in Manningtree. It was personal and distressing and really drew me into the horrors that were going on around her.
There’s a lot of characters within this story that create quite strong reactions for the reader. You will either love or hate them. Alice, for me, wasn’t either – which was unfortunate given that she is the main character. I loathed Matthew’s chief servant, Mary. She was a right pompous woman who I kept feeling a mighty need to slap. On the flip side, I felt properly sorry for his younger servant, Grace. Poor girl was shown some right horrors.
There’s a lot of intriguing mysteries, particularly regarding Matthew and his childhood. There’s obviously a lot of theories and rumours thrown around about who is or isn’t a witch. It’s all carefully woven together to give an account of the terrible trials women accused of witchcraft were forced to endure, the treatment of unmarried sisters in an age where women were seen to not have much use, and the extreme lengths people went to in order to dismiss any theory that there was such a thing as a sickness of the mind.
Together, it makes for an intriguing read – whether you’re more interested in the witches or the mysteries locked in the past – and I was hooked completely.