The Witchfinder’s Sister by Beth Underdown

Ahhhh Tuesday. There’s really only one good thing about Tuesday: it’s book day! I can walk into any bookstore right now and there will be shiny, new books staring back at me. I always like reviewing books on their birthday, and today is no exception!

 

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Title: The Witchfinder’s Sister {304 pgs}

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publication Date: April 25, 2017

Summary:

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?

While scrolling through NetGalley, I landed on this title and, well. I don’t need to tell you that a book about the witch hunts in England in the 1600s is right up my alley {do I need to remind everyone about my weird obsession with witches?}. Then I saw the last name Hopkins and I jumped on it, keeping my fingers and toes crossed that I would be lucky enough to receive a galley.

Now you’re the lucky ones, right?

In case you’re sitting there wondering who the heck Matthew Hopkins is, let me give you a tiny history lesson. Back in the 1640s, witch hunting became super cool, apparently. I like to think it was a bunch of men who had been rejected by certain women and then something bad happened in these men’s lives and, bam! Witch hunting. Matthew Hopkins began his witch hunting around March 1644, and he was relentless for about three years, when he retired {!!!!} in 1647. It’s reported that he was responsible for about 300 women being sent to their deaths, more “witches” than anyone else in the hundred years prior. My favorite part of Matthew Hopkins is that he claimed the title “Witchfinder General,” but Parliament never gave it to him. So this guy was just wandering around telling everyone that he was the Witchfinder General and Parliament was probably rolling their eyes at him. That’s what I like to think.

In The Witchfinder’s Sister, we’re introduced to Alice, Matthew’s older half-sister. After her husband’s death, Alice returns home from London, only to find her brother, once shy and quiet, at the center of attention with his witch hunting expeditions. Many women in their town have been accused, but there’s only one that Alice truly cares about, one that hasn’t had Matthew’s accusation flung at her, yet: Bridget, Alice’s husband’s mother and their old servant. After Matthew as burned as a child, Bridget had been dismissed, but even that remains a mystery, because what if it wasn’t Bridget that burned the child?

But this is only one problem that Alice walks into. Now she has to deal with her brother’s frigid attitude, his secrets that he guards fanatically, and a servant who seems more attached to Matthew than humanly possible. Then, as if losing her husband and a possible baby in one fell swoop isn’t enough, Matthew forces Alice to come with him to question the accused witches. Alice is subjected to watching these women say whatever they can to get out of the torture that is soon to follow. But what happens when Matthew steps out of his supportive bubble and tries to reach further than he should?

I thought this was a really ingenious way to show witch hunting without the main character being the hunter or the hunted. Alice is not biased, but she does have a hard time trying to reconcile her brother’s new work with the boy that she used to know. But the reader is able to see the interviews and the trials that these women went through without being influenced by either of the main parties. We know this is terrible, we understand that Matthew is a big fat jerk, but we get a more in depth look at the way men “found out” witches.

If you want an even more in depth look {maybe you’re weird like me}, then maybe pick up The Discovery of Witches by none other than Matthew Hopkins himself. I read it in college and was horrified by the questions he asks and the trials he sets forth for these women. I kept it next to me while reading this book, and the sheer research Beth Underdown did must have been exhausting. She really captured the frenzy of that time and the way the men – and some women – cut their eyes at the women who had slighted them. But what I loved most of all was how Alice, stuck in this situation, never gave up hope. At some points, she knew that getting away from Matthew would prove to be impossible, but she had such hope for Bridget and Rebecca West, a young woman accused. Until the bitter end, Alice had hope that this frenzy would die out and all of the accused would be able to go back to their lives, and that was more inspiring than anything, even if you were shaking your head sadly at her the entire time.

I guess I could have summed this all up by saying this was one of my favorite books of the year so far, and I’m so excited for everyone to read it because it’s really good and it’ll make you super angry. I also think the last line of the book is one of the best I’ve read in a long time. It made me gasp out loud and then laugh, because there’s nothing else you can do. Buuuut…I wouldn’t mind a sequel to this, after that last line. Just throwing it out there.

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