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The Witchfinder's Sister by Beth Underdown

The Witchfinder's Sister (edition 2017)

by Beth Underdown (Author)

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4410262,368 (3.65)5
Title:The Witchfinder's Sister
Authors:Beth Underdown (Author)
Info:Penguin (2017), 361 pages
Collections:Your library, Read, Read in 2017, Historical Fiction, NetGalley
Tags:Historical Fiction

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The Witchfinder's Sister by Beth Underdown



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This historical fiction follows the career of self-styled (and real life) Witchfinder General Matthew Hopkins, as told by his sister, Alice. In the 1640s, during the English Civil War between the Catholics and Protestants, Hopkins gained infamy for his dogged pursuit of witches in the Southeast of England. It is estimated that anywhere from 100 to 300 women perished due to his work. Like the witch hysteria of Salem, Massachusetts in 1692, Hopkins focused his attentions on independent, outspoken, and/or unpopular women. And, the times being what they were, a good deal of anti-catholic hatred also informed his persecutions.

This book is told from the point of view of Matthew Hopkins’ older sister, Alice, recently widowed and returned to her hometown. Through guile and intimidation, Matthew enlists Alice to help him in ferreting out witches, which she does with increasing reluctance. As Matthew’s obsession grows in intensity, so does the menace Alice can sense underneath his brotherly affection.

The Witchfinder’s Sister is a carefully researched and intricately detailed historical fiction. Underdown does a great job conveying the sense of claustrophobia and dread that haunts the main protagonist. There are no (real) witches or demons here; the horrible things humans are capable of inflicting upon one another more than serve to provide horror.

I will say, however, that as a protagonist, Alice Hopkins does feel a little bit flat. She seems to have no agency or larger sense of herself beyond what others want of her. Rather that being an active part of the story, she seems to simply drift from plot point to plot point. While this may be intentional on the part of the author (a more spirited woman would likely have fought more), it does make her a bit dull and frustrating as a narrator. By contrast, Underdown did a wonderful job with Matthew Hopkins, he is terrifying and broken, a source of horror and begrudging pity.

Fans of darker historical fiction, or those interested in the histories of witchcraft hysteria will likely enjoy this book. Underdown does a fantastic job of bringing England in the 1640s to life, and her sense of pacing palpably increases the reader’s sense of dread as the narrative unfolds.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review ( )
1 vote irregularreader | Apr 26, 2017 |
Witches, Evil, Fear, Horror and Doom - Oh MY! Matthew has a past that has made him seek power over others at the peril of their deaths. He has set himself up to eliminate women by condemning them to hang for witchcraft. This era of history is terrifying; making this read disturbing and unpleasant. Matthew's sister Alice has a tragic existence from the death of her husband to the numerous miscarriages she has had. Although the reader routes for Alice to be the hero in this tale she is faced with so many diabolical events that it is unsettling. Beth Underdown does an excellent job of telling this Dark Story. A copy of this book was provided to me by Ballantine Books via Netgalley with no requirements for a review. I voluntarily read this book and my comments here are my honest opinion. ( )
  marandajo | Apr 25, 2017 |
The horror which man can visit on his fellow man, or woman, on anyone slightly different or strange, is explored in this richly-written debut novel. ‘The Witchfinder’s Siste’r by Beth Underdown is a fictional telling of a real seventeenth century witchfinder, Matthew Hopkins, and his invented sister Alice. It is a novel steeped in historical fact, with excerpts of documents including real people and trials.
It is 1645 and the Civil War in England is into its fourth year. There is a sense of brooding danger from the very beginning, and not just because of war. It is a time of religious fervour. A short prologue contains a list of women named as witches, their descriptions and accused crimes. Then in chapter one we meet Alice who is confined to one room. This novel is the account of her life.
When Alice’s husband dies in London in a work accident, she returns home, newly pregnant, to the Essex village where she grew up. Upon entering the home of her younger half-brother Matthew, she discovers he has become obsessed with punishing women for witchery. As her worry about his activities turns into fear, she is unable to escape his influence and is pulled into complicity with his acts. Despite attempts to break free, she too is under his power.
It is a fascinating historical read, the sort of book where you feel assured the author’s research is authentic. Told completely from Alice’s point of view, the other female characters are deeply drawn. The servants in her brother’s house, the creepy Mary Phillips and young Grace; Bridget, her step-mother’s former servant; and Rebecca West, accused of witchery. Some of it is difficult reading, particularly the Watching and Searching of suspects, who are subjected to difficult and demeaning conditions. The power of a few men over so many is frightening. With relevance to today’s society are the big issues of man’s inhumanity to man, intolerance and that ability to inflict cruelty which seems always to lurk just beneath the surface of civilised society.
A book that will stay with me for a long time, and which will be re-read.
Read more of my book reviews at http://www.sandradanby.com/book-reviews-a-z/ ( )
1 vote Sandradan1 | Apr 22, 2017 |
I would like to thank Penguin Books for providing me with an advanced reading copy of this book.

The Witch Finder's Sister is a fictional tale based on the life of Matthew Hopkins - a witch hunter believed to have been responsible for the deaths of 300 women between the years 1644 and 1646. The story is told through the eyes of his sister Alice who experiences his obsession first hand and recounts the tale to the reader.

Initially, when I first started reading the book I thought I was going to love it. The writing style appealed to me, it felt like Alice was talking directly to me and I was excited to read more. But, unfortunately, it didn't live up to my expectations. It concentrated too much on Alice's emotions, inner thoughts, and memories. She was a bystander lost within her own past and present, looking in rather than looking out at the horror of what was actually taking place. There were so many missed opportunities to escalate the storyline and to ramp up the tension, but they were missed because of the way the storyline advanced in regards to Alice's character.

As a reader, I only got little peeks into the true horrors of what Matthew was doing. Right before the witch hunts approached their worst, just when things were starting to get interesting and were really about to kick off, the author decided to lock Alice in the attic, which of course resulted in the reader being locked in that attic alongside Alice.

What happened in that dark attic? Not much at all - meanwhile, Matthew and his witch trials are causing chaos. The trials are approaching their worst, hundreds of women are being killed, months of mayhem and murder are taking place, and the reader is sat in the dark with Alice. There was so much going on outside that attic that the reader was excluded from, all the chaos and horrors that would have made this a book to remember, and instead we're given a just few pages of Alice in the dark. What a let down that was.

The book is categorised by the publisher as being adult general fiction, mystery, and thriller, but to be honest there wasn't much mystery or thrills to be found. The pacing was very slow, there wasn't enough action, and characters were hard to connect with. The ending, in particular, had me rolling my eyes.

Not one I would recommend. The blurb and the cover quotes promised much and delivered little. ( )
  Scarlet-Aingeal | Apr 20, 2017 |
After the death of her husband, Alice Hopkins has no other choice than to return to her childhood home in Manningtree to live with her brother Matthew. But a lot has happened there while she was away and her brother has changed. They haven’t been in contact for years and Matthew didn’t approve her choice of husband and still hasn’t forgiven her.

Little by little Alice discovers that it is Matthew who is behind hunting women and accusing them of witchcraft. But she is horrified when she realizes that Matthew wants her to join him in the quest to find witches.

The first part of the book was really slow and boring so I was thinking about quitting but I still wanted to know how it ends. I mean all the action was in the latter half of the book.

I wasn’t huge fan of Alice and just didn’t connect with her. I just wished she had more backbone. She was too easily influenced by what others think and would agree with them. Then someone else says this and then she agrees with them and so on. She did got little better at the end and I was happy about the ending. I didn’t get why she would tell Matthew about her pregnancy. It probably wouldn’t have made him any warmer or anything but still.

Matthew well… he had his reasons sort of… He is evil person who truly believes in the existence of witches. He really does believe he is doing the right thing. He is not a nice person, I’ll just leave it there.

I have to say I didn’t like this as much as I thought I would but everyone else seems to love this so what do I know. But I was just bored and not scared. ( )
  Elysianfield | Apr 15, 2017 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0399179143, Hardcover)

A thrilling debut novel, a literary historical thriller based on the devastating witch hunts in 1640s England conducted by “Witchfinder General” Matthew Hopkins—for readers of Sarah Waters and Katherine Howe.
Before Salem, there was Manningtree. . . .
“This summer, my brother Matthew set himself to killing women, but without ever once breaking the law.”
Essex, England, 1645. With a heavy heart, Alice Hopkins returns to the small town she grew up in. Widowed, with child, and without prospects, she is forced to find refuge at the house of her younger brother, Matthew. In the five years she has been gone, the boy she knew has become a man of influence and wealth—but more has changed than merely his fortunes. Alice fears that even as the cruel burns of a childhood accident still mark his face, something terrible has scarred Matthew’s soul.
There is a new darkness in the town, too—frightened whispers are stirring in the streets, and Alice’s blood runs cold with dread when she discovers that Matthew is a ruthless hunter of suspected witches. Torn between devotion to her brother and horror at what he’s become, Alice is desperate to intervene—and deathly afraid of the consequences. But as Matthew’s reign of terror spreads, Alice must choose between her safety and her soul.
Alone and surrounded by suspicious eyes, Alice seeks out the fuel firing her brother’s brutal mission—and is drawn into the Hopkins family’s past. There she finds secrets nested within secrets: and at their heart, the poisonous truth. Only by putting her own life and liberty in peril can she defeat this darkest of evils—before more innocent women are forced to the gallows.
Inspired by the real-life story of notorious “Witchfinder General” Matthew Hopkins, Beth Underdown’s thrilling debut novel blends spellbinding history with harrowing storytelling for a truly haunting reading experience.

(retrieved from Amazon Wed, 23 Nov 2016 23:26:24 -0500)

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