Synopsis: 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?
I think now that to be close to someone can be to underestimate them. Grow too close, and you do not see what they are capable of; or you do not see it in time.
The Witchfinder’s Sister is based on true life witch hunter Matthew Hopkins that grew to fame during the English Civil War around East Anglia, hunting and killing “witches”. This book isn’t non-fiction, it’s fiction based around non-fiction. I love these sorts of books that create their own stories from something that was very much real. Not only does it make for good reading, they also bring in some true history facts, so you’re being educated on the subject as you read.
The writing in this novel was haunting and beautiful. Nine times out of ten, it was exactly as you would have imagined the 17th Century to be, but I felt there were a few slips that made the book feel modern. For example, would a lady in 1645 use the phrase “shitting herself”? Correct me if I’m wrong, but that feels like a reasonably modern phrase to me.
I loved our main character, Alice. Me and my mum were talking about historical fiction novels and how we find it hard to understand why women make the decisions they make in these books, because we’re so used to having some equality and independence. But I noted that in this book, even though Alice is inferior to her brother and his counterparts, she is still a risk taker; going against her brother’s wishes & sneaking around. I liked that she was strong and a little rebellious, it was so much easier to connect with her because of this.
On the other hand. I hated Matthew. He was a despicable character. I can rarely hate a character in a book, even if I’m supposed to. I tend to find the good in them at some point, or have some sort of sympathy for them, but I absolutely despised Matthew. Well done to Underdown for creating such a hate-inducing character. It’s quite a hard feat, but she managed it perfectly. The same goes for Mary Phillips.
The tension was built so well in this novel, you could feel the mystery growing and growing with every page and I loved it! Though the story moved reasonably slowly, the book was still absolutely riveting and I found it extremely hard to put down when I knew it was time to get some rest.
High praise goes to Underdown for this novel. I feel like historical fiction can be a hard genre to get right, and considering this is a debut novel, I’m amazed at how well put together and beautiful this has turned out to be! I love reading historical fiction, every once in awhile, and this is the sort of book that keeps my love for the genre burning. I am so, so excited to read more from Underdown. This was an amazingly well put together and researched.
Thanks to Netgalley and Penguin Books UK for giving me the opportunity to read this in exchange for an honest review.