In another life, I’m pretty sure I was a witch. Probably not a good one. But a witch none-the-less. And although I’m not much of a witch in this life, I do love a good witch story. Joseph Delaney’s ‘Spooks’ series is one of my favourite witchy series, but for a standalone novel for an older audience, I have discovered ‘The Witchfinder’s Sister’ by Beth Underdown.
It’s 1645, and Alice Hopkins is en route to her hometown of Manningtree, Essex, to join her brother Matthew. Her husband has died in tragic circumstances, and she is pregnant and alone – save for Matthew. It has been some years since Alice has seen her brother, due to a disagreement on her choice of husband. On her return, she soon realises he is not the shy young man she left behind. Rather, Matthew is now the driving force behind the movement to hunt down and punish women suspected of witchcraft. Witches.
Matthew Hopkins is, in fact, a real historical figure, and Underdown has clearly done a vast amount of research into his role in the witch-trials of the 1600’s, and the methods for ‘finding and testing’ a girl to see if she may be a witch. As you can imagine, none of these are methods make much sense and most are damning either way. For example, the swimming of the condemned woman; you sink, you are innocent but die. You float, you are guilty and are arrested and hung (if you don’t die in the holding cell first).
‘The Witchfinder’s Sister’ is Beth Underdown’s debut novel, and it has set her up to be a popular and well-respected author. I’ve read many favourable reviews, and have to agree completely; this is a fantastic read. With a novel set in this historical time-period, the description could easily be heavy and hard to get through, however, Underdown manages to convey all the information in a way that feels light, understandable and still interesting.
The characters are all very likeable, or intentionally dislikable depending who we’re talking about. I felt that most questions and storylines were tied up nicely by the end of the book, and I was left feeling satisfied and a little sad to be finishing Alice’s story. There is a nice little foreshadowing in the last sentence, indicating Alice’s next steps after the pages stop turing for the reader – and it was a very nice touch.
I really enjoyed ‘The Witchfinder’s Sister’ and will be looking forward to Underdown’s next book. I’d love to see her write something from a similar time-period as she has a real talent for writing historical fiction.
Have you read this novel? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!