‘Do you believe in the Devil?
I see you smile.
But I have sat down with him to dine.’
1645. Alice Hopkins returns in disgrace, husbandless and pregnant, to her brother Matthew’s house in the small Essex town of Manningtree.
When she left, Matthew was an awkward boy, bullied for the scars that disfigure his face. But the brother Alice has come back to is like a different person. Now Matthew has powerful friends and mysterious business that takes him out late into the night.
Then the rumours begin: whispers of witchcraft and of a great book, in which Matthew is gathering names.
Just how far will Matthew’s obsession drive him? And what choice will Alice make when she finds herself at the very heart of his plan?
I could not stop reading this book! Even my husband commented on how I couldn’t put it down and he’s used to me nearly always having my head buried in a book rather than listening to what he’s saying!
Beth Underdown has written a fictional book based on Matthew Hopkins, the Witchfinder General. I remember learning about this period of history at school and it really is fascinating. The author brings the time period alive with her vivid descriptions; the details are well researched, from what people wore to the way they spoke.
Alice Hopkins has been recently widowed and left with no option but to return to her brother Matthew’s house. He had not approved of her marriage so she is expecting little sympathy. She could not have imagined what she would be returning to though. Matthew has quickly gained authority and power and seems to be on a quest to hunt down women he has claimed are witches. Alice can hardly believe what her brother has become capable of; local women he has known for many years have not been spared; he has them all tried and ultimately their fate will be death.
Alice is trapped, she does not agree with her brother but she has nowhere else to go, she is entirely dependent on him. The more she observes, the more she becomes scared of him and what he would be capable of.
I found The Witchfinder’s Sister fascinating and completely captivating. The details were so rich that it was easy to imagine the events the author described. Beth Underdown shows the awful plight of these women; the trials they endured and punishments they received. The author shows how it was almost dangerous to be a woman in the 1600’s, especially a widow or spinster. It was not men who were pursued but vulnerable women. Alice’s position as a female also makes her vulnerable and she is exploited by her own brother as he knows she has no other means to live. This all added to an almost claustrophobic feel to the book; at certain points I felt like Matthew Hopkins was unstoppable and you can feel the terror of the women in his way.
The Witchfinder’s Sister is as relevant today as it was in the 1600’s. People often had personal reasons for accusing women of witchcraft, hearsay completely out of control. Often it was because they may have looked different or behaved a little out of the ordinary. Mob rule still happens today in different forms but it is just as terrifying and immoral.
It’s only March but I already know that this will be one of my favourite books of 2017. I cannot stop thinking about Alice and her brother and it has made me want to know more about what happened. I love it when a book leaves you wanting more and I didn’t want this one to end.
Many thanks to Penguin for sending me a copy of this book to review.
I have a proof copy of this book to give away! The competition is open to UK residents, simply leave a comment on this blog post by Midnight on Sunday 12th March and I shall pick a name out of the hat!