The Witchfinder's Sister
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“This is a novel for our times. . . . The Witchfinder’s Sister [lays] bare the visceral horror of what a witch hunt truly is.”—The New York Times Book Review (Editors’ Choice)
“Vivid and terrifying.”—Paula Hawkins, author of The Girl on the Train and Into the Water
“Connects nicely with such dystopian classics as 1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale.”—Booklist
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 echoes of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale for a truly haunting reading experience.
Praise for The Witchfinder’s Sister
“Entertaining and thought-provoking—with a valuable message for our own times.”—The Washington Post
“Highly recommended.”—Library Journal (starred review)
From Publishers Weekly
© Publishers Weekly
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.