The Witchfinder's Sister
by Beth Underdown
Random House Publishing Group - Ballantine
Pub Date 25 Apr 2017
The Witchfinder's Sister is the debut novel by Beth Underdown. Her first novel. I need to make sure that is stated up front because it is an absolutely amazing read. I was totally drawn into Alice's story. The book opens with Alice being kept prisoner in a locked room under orders of her brother Matthew Hopkin's, the infamous witchfinder of English history. As the book circles back and tells the story of Alice and her family, I could not help but fear for her safety. Each chapter increased the dread for what would happen to her.
The book takes place during the English Civil War. The story begins in the spring of 1645 and ends in the summer of 1648. Alice is witness to her brother's hunt for witches and his methods for identifying them. This is the mindset, the philosophy, that gave birth to America's own witch hunts. It is truly frightening on several levels. Any woman who was different, perhaps mentally ill or independent or quarrelsome with her neighbors was fair game for being accused. Once accused there was no way to prove one's innocence, only one's guilt. The author does a fantastic job of illustrating these details without losing the reader's interest.
Although this period of English history is not very familiar to me, I am now very interested in learning more of it. Did this witch paranoia come from the chaos of the civil war or from the religious philosophy of those fighting the crown? How could a woman defend herself if accused? Was there any chance for being acquitted at all? Alice is a fantastic guide through this nightmare world. She is a reliable narrator who is horrified by what she witnesses but finds herself powerless to help any of the accused, even to help herself.
I highly recommend Beth Underdown's debut novel The Witchfinder's Sister. It is a compelling, tense but ultimately enjoyable read.