A thrilling debut novel, a literary historical thriller based on the devastating witch hunts in 1640s England conducted by “Witchfinder General” Matthew Hopkins—for readers of Sarah Waters and Katherine Howe.
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.
Release Date: April 25, 2017
My Review ♦♦♦♦
This is one of those books with which I’m having trouble assigning a star-rating. I debated for some time, deciding to add the extra star despite my misgivings because the book is, ultimately, well-written and the research is impeccable.
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.
The story gets off to a slow start, with the first third or so of the book having too much drag for my taste. The tone during the first part feels more like a women’s drama than the tumultuous tale of persecution I’d been expecting. Eventually, Alice becomes enmeshed in Matthew’s pursuit of witches. This is when the story takes off, carrying us along through harrowing events. These aspects of the story are based on fact, centered around the real Matthew Hopkins, who was responsible for the persecution and murder of “witches” from 1645 through 1647. The reality of the situation for all these women makes this story all the more compelling.
I had thought coming back would be simple, but I saw now that it was not; that I had walked back into a thicket of something.
Beth Underdown beautifully captures the plight of women during this historical period (and beyond). Women didn’t own property. Job opportunities were scarce, and what women were allowed to do was almost always dictated by men. Women were suppressed, totally dependent on men to take care of them financially. They had no voice in society, and certainly little say within the court system. We see how the vulnerability of simply being female, along with the superstitions of the time and the vindictiveness of people intent on blaming another for their misfortune, created the perfect climate for witch hunts. This, for me, is the story’s strength, and the power here outweighs the slow start.
The thought came to me that from now on every morsel in my mouth, every stitch on my back would come from him.
*I was provided with an advance ebook copy by the publisher, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.*
Thanks for reading. 🙂