Normally, I wouldn't be reading a witch-centered tale at this point in the year; I prefer to read this type of story in the fall, when the crunching leaves and cool wind outside put me in the mood. I couldn't wait, however, to get my hands on this new release from a freshman author, if only to see if I should recommend it for this year's great October reads list. The Witchfinder's Sister is a tale of witch-hunting in 17th century England, a time in which the slightest betrayal of propriety could mark a woman as under the influence of the devil.
The story follows Alice Hopkins, a woman who is forced to move from London back to her hometown of Manningtree after the death of her husband. Alice arrives, hoping that her fractured relationship with her brother can be healed as she will be forced to rely on his hospitality for the foreseeable future. Matthew accepts Alice into his home but he has undergone a change since the siblings had last seen each other. He has grown into a serious man, extremely private and outwardly judgmental of those who do not follow the Bible's teachings. Alice soon realizes that Matthew is doing more than just judging others -- he is taking careful notes, preparing himself for a venerable witch-hunt.
For a debut novel, this was very well written. The details were obviously well-researched, and I had no trouble putting myself into the setting of this book. For me, it's weakness was in the plot. I felt that it was awfully drawn out, and I found my interest waning until I hit the 70% mark -- that's when I started to feel invested in the story. The pace makes sense considering the setting -- there wasn't much sudden action back in the 1640's -- but some of the most interesting history behind the book didn't come in until that last 30%, and I found myself wishing that our protagonist could have spent less time pacing her room and more time in the action. My second qualm was in the character of Alice, as she was always deferential and even when she tried to stand up to the men in her life, she never actually followed through. Historically, her behavior makes sense, as she wouldn't have had many options when it came to supporting herself, but her character felt weak to me and I found myself disappointed in her tendency towards hiding away rather than standing up for herself and others.
I found the history behind the story really interesting -- Matthew Hopkins was a real figure in history, a man responsible for the death of over a hundred women whom he accused and persecuted for witchcraft. This all happened before the infamous trials in Salem and yet it's not nearly as well known. I live next to Salem (and teach there, too) and though I had heard of the trials in England I had no knowledge of the scope of Hopkin's impact. For those interested in this period of history, I would recommend this story even with my dislike for its protagonist. To me, this feels like a book that wasn't quite right for me as a reader but has the potential to be a favorite for others.
This title will be released on April 25, 2017.
Bottom-Line Rating: 3/5
Title: The Witchfinder's Sister
Author: Beth Underdown
Publisher: Ballatine Books
Source: Net Galley
Note: Top Shelf Text was provided with a copy of this text by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own!