Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Witchfinder's Sister

Title:  The Witchfinder's Sister
Author:  Beth Underdown
Publication Information:  Ballantine Books. 2017. 336 pages.
ISBN:  0399179143 / 978-0399179143

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "1645, and the Civil War in England has begun its fourth year."

Favorite Quote:  "Resentment buried is not gone. It is like burying a seed:  for a season it may stay hidden in the dark, but in the end, it will always grow."

The Witchfinder is historical figure Matthew Hopkins. The Witchfinder's sister is Alice, a fictional character. The book is the story of this historical figure told through the perspective of his fictional sister.

Matthew Hopkins lives in the town of Manningtree in Essex in England during the 1600s. England is in the middle of a civil war between the Parliamentarians and the royalists. Suspicion and superstition abound. For many, the objective is to find someone to blame for anything and everything that goes wrong. More often than not, that blame falls on the women, particularly those not living a traditional lifestyle of child rearing and drudgery.

That is where Matthew Hopkins comes in. In his self-appointed role as Witchfinder, it becomes his job to confirm or deny the claim of witchcraft. History tells us that most of the claims were confirmed; in his short career, Matthew Hopkins is said to have been responsible for the death of over 300 women.

Historically, very little is known about Matthew Hopkins' family life. What remains is his mark on history. This book presents a fictional story of what that life would have. It tells of a childhood accident that leaves his scarred, the death of his father that changes the family's circumstances, and Matthew's gradual submersion into this life he chooses. His sister is not marred by visible scars and finds a different path through the same circumstances. Widowed young, she is forced to return and forced to be dependent on his brother. Once back in Manningtree, Alice is pulled more and more into the darkness of the times and the darkness of her brother's choices.

More than Matthew Hopkins' story, this book is Alice's story. It is only her perspective the reader sees. Her emotions and her shock at what she finds in Manningtree after being away for over five year. It is also her conversations and relationships that take center stage in the witch hunt. The much more interesting story would be that of Matthew Hopkins himself, of those proclaimed to be witches, and of the trials. Because of the narrator of the story, the book does not give the broader historical picture and feels like a sideline view of the main plot.

What accentuates this feeling even more is the fact that the pace of the book is very very slow. The first third of the book seems almost all back story. It lasts a little too long and keeps me from engaging for I spend that time waiting to get to the main story.

Even more than Alice's story, this book is the story of the darkness. The writing does a beautiful job of creating a cold and grim picture of the small town of Manningtree. The entire book has an overwhelming dark and somber feeling which carries forward through to the end. The ending too leaves a lingering thought of darkness with one word - Salem. The atmospheric writing is perhaps my favorite part of the book and makes me look forward to seeing what Beth Underdown writes next.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

No comments:

Post a Comment