Hi guys, and happy Wednesday! Hope you are all doing great and that spring is also knocking at your door. Today I am absolutely thrilled to be a part of Beth Underdown’s blog tour and share my review of her debut novel “The Witchfinder’s Sister” with you. It is a debut but one that doesn’t read like debut at all, and you can be sure that this book will make you shudder…I loved it, and the atmosphere that author has created – it doesn’t happen often that it’s so brilliantly captured!
The Witchfinder’s Sister by Beth Underdown
Publishing Date: 2nd March 2017
Source: Received from the publisher in return for an honest review!
Number of pages: 400
Genre: Historical Fiction, Adult Fiction
‘VIVID AND TERRIFYING’ Paula Hawkins, author of The Girl on the Train
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?
“The Witchfinder’s Sister” by Beth Underdown must be the most unusual, unique book I have ever read – I think I haven’t read fiction based on the witch – hunting before. I mean, everybody heard about Salem, and we know about women being burned alive or hung but I am not sure if I ever came across this subject in adult historical fiction. Or I simply don’t remember anymore. Whatever – “The Witchfinder’s Sister” was a captivating, intriguing and also haunting read, a brilliant story based on a real event. Told from Alice, Matthew Hopkins’ half – sister’s point of view, the story begins in a very intriguing way, with a woman being imprisoned, but we don’t know by whom nor why…
This novel is not only a reconstruction of what happened in 1645 but it perfectly mixes fiction with reality. The story of Alice and Matthew is gripping, full of dark secrets, twists and turns, it is unpredictable and I was almost all the time scared that something is going to happen to Alice. The author also adds an element of suspense and family drama, slowly revealing the secrets and letting the elements of the puzzle to fall into places. The characters were portrayed in a great way. It was so clear that Matthew was a man obsessed – however I missed what made him behave this way. Was it something particular that happened? His mission was to accuse as many women of being witches as possible and he wasn’t afraid to tell lies, manipulate and betray to succeed. It was amazing how the author described him during the questionings, as a companionable, almost having compassion man of honour, convincing everybody that what he’s doing is done in the most fair way, and also convinced himself that he wields all the power of the world in his own hands. The author has managed to write him in the most incredible way possible, I think, as there were moments that he appeared embarrassed with the things he was doing, scared and also vulnerable – even though it was only a mask! There were also moments that he was the best brother possible to Alice and in the next second he was giving her the cold shoulder again – so very complex, not straightforward. What made the character of Matthew even more fascinating was the fact that he really actually existed, and also the trials took place and were documented. Alice was a great counterbalance to Matthew’s character. She was kind and open and she, as it so often happens in historical fiction, was ahead of her times, but not too much ahead. She didn’t believe in witches and she wanted to help those that were accused by her own brother. However, as much as I appreciate how brilliantly she was developed, I still missed the connection between me and Alice. She sometimes felt like a mimosa and there was something in her, I don’t know what, a weaker side perhaps, that just made her feel a little only two dimensional.
This book is exceptionally well researched. All the details about the period, or the events, about the way people were living, dressing or eating, but also the description of the nature and landscape in the 17th century, were so vivid and so realistic, and so easily brought to life by the author. What was also amazingly described – even though I know it worked that way – was that you could have accused each and every woman of being a witch, there was no hiding place from this. The more ridiculous reason, the better, and the way people reacted to a woman being accused of witchcraft – amazing. It was probably because they were relieved it’s not their wife/sister/mother/daughter. The brainstorming really worked well then, and it was enough to be a little different, lonely, have some mental problems or using herbs to be reported as being a witch.
There were moments in this book where the story dragged on a little, and it was rather on the slow side, but with so many information and awful things happening there was no need for this to be extremely quick. The writing style is great, there is something in it that just pulls you in. The story about the witch hunting and trials is told with a real passion. The author also brilliantly captured the atmosphere of the times she’s written about. However, I’d missed more of the hunting itself. No no no, I am not a bloodthirsty vampire looking for sensation or something, it’s just that there were moments that the story dragged on too much, or that I felt as if we are staying in one place and not moving. There was a lot about other things, about Alice’s private life, a lot about Alice and Matthew’s background, and in between we get some mentions that some of the women were arrested, but that’s all. And then suddenly it comes to a trial and that was that.
But the author wonderfully writes about the emotions. You could almost feel the tension and fear, the uncertainty when not knowing what the next page is going to bring – it was really vivid and it felt truly realistic. Beth Underdowned has created a dark, exceptionally good historical thriller (is there even such a genre?), and if it is her debut novel than I really can’t wait for more books to come. The claustrophobic atmosphere of the 17th century England and the uncertainty of what’s to come next were palpable through the pages, brilliantly created. Story created around a story, such a brilliant and unique idea, moreover so well put together and with a great outcome. And I love the last sentence of this book, where Alice breaks to us that she’s found her new place in Salem… Can you imagine…? Highly recommended!
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