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The Last Witchfinder by James Morrow

The Last Witchfinder (2006)

by James Morrow

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9474714,679 (3.73)65
Jennet Stearne's father hangs witches for a living in Restoration England. But when this precocious child witnesses the horrifying death of her beloved Aunt Isobel, unjustly executed as a sorceress, she makes it her life's mission to bring down the Parliamentary Witchcraft Act. A self-educated "natural philosopher," Jennet is inspired in her quest by a single sentence in a cryptic letter from Isaac Newton: "It so happens that in the Investigations leading first to my Conjectures concerning Light and later to my System of the World, I fell upon a pretty Proof that Wicket Spirits enjoy no essential Existence." Armed with nothing but the power of reason and her memory of Isobel's love, Jennet cannot rest until she has put the last witchfinder out of business.--Publisher description.… (more)



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This book can only be described as historical fantasy. Morrow uses the horrific history of witch finding from England to America through the character of Jennet Stearne who spends her life trying to come up with a grand argument that would legally undermine witchfinders, the livelihood of her father and brother. Along the way, she is abducted by Algonquin Indians, shipwrecked with Ben Franklin, and accused of witchcraft herself. The narrator is Newton's Principia Mathematica, the text that Jennet used for her argument, and in the interludes, the book describes its battle against the Malleus Maleficarum, the witch hunting handbook. Here's where fantasy really takes over. The writing was rich and evocative, often ironic, and sometimes just fun. ( )
  witchyrichy | Mar 16, 2019 |
Ambitious much? ( )
  thiscatsabroad | Mar 5, 2019 |
A woman's life trying to establish a grand argument to dismiss the legal standing of witch finders. Didn't really grab me. ( )
  brakketh | Dec 30, 2016 |
too dark for me
( )
  Kaethe | Oct 16, 2016 |
If you are looking for a book about a tragic mistake costing a woman her life, a community ganging up on a few unusual women, a pseudohistorical explanation for mass hallucinations, or a condemnation of witches, keep looking.

This book is for fans of Setterfield's "The Thirteenth Tale" or "Bellman & Black", or Kostova's "The Historian", or Borges or Calvino or Eco or Garcia Marquez. If you want to know why you can never find a copy of the Principia Mathematica at your local used bookshop, despite the fact that the book was a vector that pushed both science and its place in Western life in a new direction (can't argue that, no matter how you feel about the beginning of the "Enlightenment" or trigonometry), and what happens when someone with a calling meets an immovable bureaucracy, or a smart woman meets an old superstition, or a book falls desperately in love with one of its first students, you have found a new friend. A delightful weekend's romp through the turbulent mid-17th century in England and its North American colonies, tantalizing bibliometaphysics, funny literary injokes, magical confluences of story with history, and put-your-finger-in-the-book and stare-thoughtfully-at-something epiphanies. I'll meet you there. ( )
1 vote Nialle | May 16, 2016 |
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Introducing Out Heroine, Jennet Stearne, Whose
Father Hunts Witches, Whose Aunt Seeks Wisdom, and
Whose Soul Desires an Object It Cannot Name

May I speak candidly, fleshling, one rational creature to another, myself a book and you a reader?
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Jennet Stearne's father hangs witches for a living in Restoration England. But when she witnesses the unjust and horrifying execution of her beloved aunt Isobel, the precocious child decides to make it her life's mission to bring down the Parliamentary Witchcraft Act. Armed with little save the power of reason, and determined to see justice prevail, Jennet hurls herself into a series of picaresque adventures—traveling from King William's Britain to the fledgling American Colonies to an uncharted island in the Caribbean, braving West Indies pirates, Algonquin Indian captors, the machinations of the Salem Witch Court, and the sensuous love of a young Ben Franklin. For Jennet cannot and must not rest until she has put the last witchfinder out of business.
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