The Witchfinder’s Sister by Beth Underdone
Read: April 18-May 3, 2017
Format: eBook ARC
My Book Rating: 2.5 Stars
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Release Date: April 25, 2017
Genre: Historical Fiction
ABOUT THE BOOK
Before Salem, there was Manningtree. . . .
“This summer, my brother Matthew set himself to killing women, but without ever once breaking the law.”
Essex, England, 1645
With a heavy heart, Alice Hopkins returns to the small town she grew up in. Widowed, with child, and without prospects, she is forced to find refuge at the house of her younger brother, Matthew. In the five years she has been gone, the boy she knew has become a man of influence and wealth—but more has changed than merely his fortunes. Alice fears that even as the cruel burns of a childhood accident still mark his face, something terrible has scarred Matthew’s soul.
There is a new darkness in the town, too—frightened whispers are stirring in the streets, and Alice’s blood runs cold with dread when she discovers that Matthew is a ruthless hunter of suspected witches. Torn between devotion to her brother and horror at what he’s become, Alice is desperate to intervene—and deathly afraid of the consequences. But as Matthew’s reign of terror spreads, Alice must choose between her safety and her soul.
Alone and surrounded by suspicious eyes, Alice seeks out the fuel firing her brother’s brutal mission—and is drawn into the Hopkins family’s past. There she finds secrets nested within secrets: and at their heart, the poisonous truth. Only by putting her own life and liberty in peril can she defeat this darkest of evils—before more innocent women are forced to the gallows.
Inspired by the real-life story of notorious “Witchfinder General” Matthew Hopkins, Beth Underdown’s thrilling debut novel blends spellbinding history with harrowing storytelling for a truly haunting reading experience.
I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
I’ve had a fascination with the Salem Witch Trials since I first heard about them, ages ago. So when I saw The Witchfinder’s Sister available on NetGalley, I thought this was a perfect read for me. It may not be the Salem witch trials, but they were still witch trials.
The Witchfinder’s Sister is based upon a real man named Matthew Hopkins who actually did put over a hundred women to death. This book is a fictional account of what happened, told from the first person perspective of his (fictional) sister, Alice.
This book started out solid. I loved the details of Alice’s life, from before she left home, while she was away with her husband, and then as she returned, a (secretly pregnant) widow.
But while the details of this story were engrossing, the plot never completely came together for me. Alice is, for the most part, an outsider watching her brothers actions but unable to do much. After all, she was just a woman and in the 1600’s they had no power. It’s possible this story could have benefited from being told in 3rd person, because then we could have seen past Alice’s limited view, but I honestly don’t know if that would have helped.
What I did really like was the way the author weaved a possible explanation for Matthew’s actions. His mother (Alice’s step-mother) is described as basically having a mental illness of some sort. Of course, back then, that wasn’t a thing. However, Alice at one point wonders if their mothers “weakness of mind” could have passed on to Matthew. Of course, there are also supernatural possibilities thrown in as well, but those never felt completely valid to me.
Overall, for a book that promised to be “haunting” and “spellbinding”, it really wasn’t. There was minimal interaction between our narrator and the accused witches. The one accused she did spent time with, never really seemed like a woman who had just been, essentially, sitting on death row. The feelings never felt genuine. I never felt the fear or the anguish of those who knew they were going to die, and most of that was because we very, very rarely saw it happen. I suppose you could say, for a book about women being accused of witchcraft, the accused were very secondary to anything else.
Would I recommend this book? Eh… not really. I mean, if you have interest in this particular witch hunt and want to read a fictionalized account of Matthew Hopkins, you might enjoy this. But for this reader, it was unfortunately pretty forgettable.
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(From an advanced release copy. Final text may vary.)
I am resolved to mark the season in the old way, but making a Christmas gift, and my gift will be to myself. It will be the chance to tell the truth. I will set it down now, while my memory holds. There is nothing to prevent me, for though I am imprisoned, I am not forbidden writing materials: ink, and pens, and paper have been brought to me without complaint. I fear it means they do not intend to let me go.
“Mary says the master has greater learning than any round here. She says he has as much knowledge of religion as the minister and of the Bible also. He has a book as well that has the names of all the witches written down in it. Mary says.”
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.
But there had been no spates of witch hanging for many years. Such things were a matter for Scotland, France, wild places across the sea or north of the border.
Names were how it had begun. One woman accuses another in a fit of grief or rage. And once you have said a name, there is no unsaying.
I wonder, not for the first time, whether Mother’s weakness of mind could have passed to him in the blood. Whether he was himself quite well.
“I think in truth I am here so that the good folk of Manningtree cannot come where I live and torch me in my bed.”
“We called a physician out, once. He said it was a brain sickness,” the night nurse told him. “But I do not believe in brain sickness. She is entirely the devil’s creature.”
It was a sin, the worst sin. But to say the truth, I would do the same again.
The number of women my brother Matthew killed, as far as I can reckon, is one hundred and six. He accomplished it in two of our short English summers, and the months between. One hundred and six women, through Essex, Suffolk, and beyond: that much is certain.