The Witchfinder’s Sister – Beth Underdown

Published March 17, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

THE MOST THRILLING HISTORICAL DEBUT OF 2017

Based on the shocking true story of the infamous witchfinder Matthew Hopkins, this haunting and gripping novel is perfect for fans of The Miniaturist, Sarah Waters and The Essex Serpent.

‘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?

What did I think?:

I’ve been familiar with The Witchfinder’s Sister for a little while now after my sister and fellow blogger, Chrissi Reads read and reviewed it as part of a blog tour. So when Richard and Judy picked it for their Spring Reads 2018 here in the UK, I was intrigued to finally discover what it was all about, particularly when I re-read the synopsis and realised it was a work of historical fiction based on events that really happened and people that actually existed in history. I love a good historical fiction, particularly one that is based largely on fact and it promised to be an intriguing read that I was hoping would keep me captivated. Generally, this is a good read, especially for anyone interested in the time period when many women were accused of witchcraft and subjected to horrific tortures in order to prove their guilt. However, by the end, it just didn’t grab my attention as much as I would have hoped and unfortunately, I wasn’t as blown away by the narrative as I had expected to be.

The Witchfinder’s Sister is told primarily from the point of view of Alice Hopkins, who has recently lost her husband in a tragic accident and is forced to return home to her brother’s house whilst in the early stages of pregnancy to beg for his help and shelter. Alice hasn’t seen her brother, Matthew Hopkins for a while and they parted fairly acrimoniously last time they spoke, with Matthew not having many kind words to say about Alice’s choice of husband. However, when Alice is finally reconciled with him, she is surprised by just how much of a difference she sees in her brother. After hearing rumours from the servants, she finds out that Matthew is keeping a list of women in the town that he suspects to be witches. Worse still, he is heavily involved with the apprehension, questioning and indeed, torture of these alleged witches and is so determined to convict as many women as possible, it is frightening. This novel follows Alice and Matthew as the former tries desperately to talk sense into her brother and the latter becomes hell-bent on pursuing this path, for various hidden reasons of his own.

As a piece of historical fiction, The Witchfinder’s Sister is luminous in both detail and atmosphere and this all leads to an instantly compelling narrative. I really felt for Alice at the beginning of the novel, having lost the love of her life and being forced back into a situation that causes her great anxiety. Then we learn a little more about Alice and the number of pregnancies that she had which resulted in miscarriage, a topic which is sadly very close to my own heart. As the novel continued however, I found myself becoming quite frustrated with Alice, mainly because I felt she didn’t stand up to her brother enough (I do note that women were meant to be submissive in this time period but Alice did seem like she should have had enough fire in her belly to dispute Matthew’s goings-on!).

Furthermore, there was a point in the narrative where something quite supernatural occurs which I thought was quite an interesting direction to take the story. However, nothing more really happened in this vein and I wondered what the point was of having it within the tale in the first place. Aside from these minor issues, I did think this was a solid novel and the author sets the scene absolutely beautifully with intricate descriptions and the inclusion of some very interesting parts of Matthew’s notebook which I fully appreciated. I think fans of historical fiction or those that love a good “witchy” story will really enjoy this and I must assure you, I do think it’s a good read, it just wasn’t an amazing one for me, personally speaking.

Would I recommend it?:

Probably!

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

The Witchfinder’s Sister was the twenty-first book in my quest to conquer Mount Everest in the Mount TBR Challenge 2018!

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4 comments on “The Witchfinder’s Sister – Beth Underdown

  • I do love a ‘witchy’ story and have been tempted by this one before. I think I’d still like to give it a go, though it’s a bit of a shame the supernatural element didn’t go really go anywhere. Fab review though Beth.

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