Saturday, 4 March 2017

The Witchfinder's Sister by Beth Underdown


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?
Based on the true story of the man known as the Witchfinder General, this exquisitely rendered novel transports you to a time and place almost unimaginable, where survival might mean betraying those closest to you, and danger lurks outside every door.

I'm delighted to be today's stop on the blog tour for the debut novel The Witchfinder's Sister by Beth Underdown.
It is with trepidation that Alice returns to her brother's house in Manningtree. She hasn't heard from him in years and they didn't part on the best of terms when she married a man her brother didn't approve of. Returning as a pregnant widow is not going to please her brother and Alice decides to hide her pregnancy from him for as long as possible.
I suspected that this might be a scary read and didn't want to read it before bedtime as I feared I might dream about it all night. It was actually worse than scary because I knew it to be based on truth.
What struck me the most was that good people did nothing. Once Matthew, the Witchfinder's General had started on his murderous road no one stood in his way. He was aided and abetted by rich men and by fear. Alice tried to make things slightly easier for the accused women but by doing so I feel she made herself complicit in his dealings.
I enjoy reading books that are based on true facts from history. We are told this story from the point of view of Alice who is the fictitious sister of Matthew. She has no idea what her brother is involved in and is horrified when she has to accompany him on his witch finding expeditions. 
The harsh life of living in the seventeenth century was shown through simple things like an old loaf of bread on a table as the only nourishment, riding a horse for miles on end being the only transport, and sharing a bed with a stranger in an inn.
This is a good first novel from Beth Underwood. I found the beginning a bit slow but it picked up pace and I was soon desperate to find out how Alice would survive her life with her brother.
There was also something really sad throughout the book. The fact that if misfortune fell on rich people they blamed it on being cursed or by some witchery by either poor or simple people. Babies dying young, horses being lame, crops failing. You name it and it was blamed on these so called witches.
I think the only truly evil person was Matthew himself and I wanted him to come to a sticky end.
Talking about the end.I loved the ending of this book,it also scared me and I think it calls for a sequel.
As I said at the start I was worried about reading this book mainly because I'm a scardey cat and easily spooked. There is no doubt that it's a thought provoking subject and although I wasn't scared I did jump at a shadow or two one day after reading it.
There are other people in the story who grab your attention. One is Rebecca and another is Grace, Alice's mother in law. I would like to have read more about the other women who were being held for trial I think it would have made me even more sympathetic towards them.
After finishing this book I've found myself googling witch trials and Matthew Hopkins as my curiosity about the subject matter has grown.
I hope to read more by Beth Underwood in the future.

About the author......

Beth Underdown was born in Rochdale in 1987. She studied at the University of York and then the University of Manchester, where she is now a Lecturer in Creative Writing. The Witchfinder’s Sister is her debut novel, and is based on the life of the 1640s witch finder Matthew Hopkins. She first came across him while reading a book about seventeenth-century midwifery. As you do.

1 comment:

  1. Oh goodness, I remember studying this dreadful episode in history when I was at school and university. The man was obsessed. Very very scary. It sounds as if it was a good read, thiugh, Anne!


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