Ahoy there mateys! Though this log’s focus is on sci-fi, fantasy, and young adult, this Captain does have broader reading tastes. So occasionally I will share some novels that I enjoyed that are off the charts (a non sci-fi, fantasy, or young adult novel), as it were. Here is a very good historical fiction:
the witchfinder’s sister (Beth Underdown)
One standard “non-standard for me” genre is historical fiction. While I love history by itself, I enjoy historical fiction for the blending of history and getting to feel like the historical characters are real people. I mean, I know many of the historical characters in historical fiction books were real people, as that is the point. But I like the idea of knowing what they may have thought about the strange circumstances they found themselves in – especially if it involves women’s perspectives.
This story is told from the perspective of Alice Hopkins. Tragedy forces Alice to go back to stay with her brother whom she left under less than ideal circumstances. However, when she goes back she does not find the brother that she remembers. Matthew Hopkins has gone from a nobody to one of the most important figures in the village. Why? Because he is determined to hunt down all the witches.
Matthew Hopkins (link to Wikipedia) is the actual historical personage in this novel. He is credited with having helped kill over 300 women in the period from 1644 to 1646. Some believe that is over 60% of all “witches” killed in over three centuries. And he did that in just over TWO years. Ugh. He seems to even have given himself the title of “Witch-Finder General.” Here is what this horrible man might have looked like:
Apparently he also wrote a book called “The Discovery of Witches” in 1647 wherein this was the frontispiece showing witches’ familiars:
Matthew Hopkins’ book was later used in law texts and to help catch witches located in the the United States, including Salem.
While there is no historical record concerning his sisters, Matthew Hopkins likely had two. I thought telling the story from a sister’s perspective was excellent. Alice was able to give her perspective on the women she knew who had been accused, life as a woman at the time, and how women actively participated in the accusations and torture of the “witches.” Even though women were seen as technically inferior and beneath men, their pettiness and gossip could be power in and of itself, and some of them used it.
I thought Alice’s story was disheartening and compelling. Every relationship shown was fraught with subtext and peril. In fact, the histories of all the characters were rich and in depth. The pace, while slow, was filled with tension and confusion about what was going to happen next. Even though it seems crazy that witch hunts existed then, I am reminded that they still occur today in some places of the world.
Overall this was a fantastic book that I am glad I read. I am grateful fer me crew member’s review that brought me to this story. Check it out at:
The author’s website has this to say about the novel:
“It has been waiting in the dark, Matthew’s history – our history. Now I must turn over the stone: that you might see it, wriggling to escape.”
1645. When Alice Hopkins’s 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?
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