Book Review: The Witchfinder’s Sister by Beth Underdown

*I received a free digital edition of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review with opinions entirely my own. Affiliate links are contained in this post. 

This debut historical fiction novel by author Beth Underdown is one worth reading! Loosely based on the true events of the Essex witch trials that took place in 17th century England.  This story centers around the real-life person, Matthew Hopkins, who took the title of “Witchfinder General” and his fictionalized sister, Alice. While Matthew was a real person in history, the author discusses at the end what parts of the story she took liberty with and who were real players of this awful part of English history.  Approximately 106 women died at the insistence of Matthew Hopkins’ evidence and testimony as he hunted down witch covens, the most being found, suspiciously, in his hometown of Manningtree.

We meet Alice, Matthew Hopkins, sister as she travels back to her hometown of Manningtree due to unfortunate circumstances. Having been away for awhile, she is unfamiliar with the power her brother has achieved and his career choice. We meet Rebecca West, who along with her mother, is accused of witchcraft and after brokering a deal with Matthew, testifies against her mother, with the promise from Matthew that he would spare her mother. We do not know the complete account of Rebecca and her mother, Anne, but we do know that Rebecca was spared in real life because she gave testimony implicating her mother.

As we experience Alice’s piecing together of what has made her brother so cold and unreasonable, we see the events of 1645-1647 play out.

This was a well-written novel that kind of genre bends a bit. It is most definitely historical fiction, however, it had a bit of mystery to it as well through Alice attempting to uncover secrets and hidden events in her family’s past.  I look forward to reading more from Beth Underdown and thank her for introducing me to a portion of history that I was unaware of. Sure, I’m familiar with the Salem witch trials here in the U.S. but I had not heard of the Essex witch trials prior to reading this novel. To say, Essex overshadowed Salem in death and destruction would be an understatement. I say definitely put The Witchfinder’s Sister on your TBR list!

Fascinating tidbits in the news about this chapter in history, if you are like me and crave a bit more fact with your fiction:

In 2010, Matthew Hopkins’ witchfinder diary was opened to the public for the first time in 400 years 

In 2015, author, Sara Pascoe, began a campaign to pardon Anne West, 370 years after she was hanged

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