The Witchfinder's Sister [review]

The Witchfinder's Sister - 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?

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The Witchfinder’s Sister definitely has a unique premise – set in 17th century Essex and told from the perspective of Alice, whose brother seems to be rather too interested in the current whispers and rumours about witchcraft, the novel follows her as she slowly unravels her brother’s dark side and the past that may have led him to behave the way he does…
The writing does a great job of really bringing the 17th century – not an era I have read that much about, to be honest – to life, with insights into the economical and social setting of that time which led people to start blaming their own misfortunes on other people. I have to say I felt it was not unlike a certain President who has managed to persuade people in his country with a crap or unfortunate life that this must all be because of immigrants. Of course at the time that this novel is set, the misfortunes of East Anglia (in fact, probably most of the country) seem to be blamed on witches and witchcraft. Sometimes people can’t just accept that bad things happen, no matter how awful they are; they’d rather believe that it’s actually because of people who don’t attend church regularly, or who may have a disability that makes them seem ‘strange’ or different. Reading The Witchfinder’s Sister I certainly picked up on certain conditions that we know a lot more about today, that at the time must have seemed frightening, unknown and therefore undiagnosed, leading people to mark them out as potential witches. Today we’d be able to deal with it all a lot better with scientific and medical knowledge.
The only thing I didn’t like was that some parts of the novel felt a little slow and could have been a bit more gripping, in my opinion – but others would disagree, I’m sure. Most of the writing, however, is rich and atmospheric, and I really liked the ending. Though it’s not a quick read due to the language being a little more old fashion to fit the setting, it’s not a particularly hard read and I’m sure anyone with even a small interest in that era – or in history in general – will enjoy reading this novel.

[Rating: 4/5]

Many thanks to Viking who provided a copy of this novel on which I chose to write an honest and unbiased review.

The Witchfinder’s Sister is out in the UK on 2 March.


    • It’s a unique way of telling the story – the ‘horrible’ side of those witch hunting stories we’ve read about in history books, but we don’t usually read about it from the sister of the hunter. I’d recommend as it’s something a little different, though it could have been a bit more exciting at parts!

  1. This sounds intriguing- I’m very interested in this period of history, and never feel like there are enough books on the subject! It sounds really good- even if it could have had a faster pace. Great review!

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