Review published on March 19, 2017.
The Witchfinder’s Sister definitely has a unique premise – set in 17th century Essex and told from the perspective of Alice, whose brother seems to be rather too interested in the current whispers and rumours about witchcraft, the novel follows her as she slowly unravels her brother’s dark side and the past that may have led him to behave the way he does…
The writing does a great job of really bringing the 17th century – not an era I have read that much about, to be honest – to life, with insights into the economic and social setting of that time, which led people to start blaming their own misfortunes on others. I have to say I felt it was not unlike a certain president who has managed to persuade people in his country with a crap or unfortunate life that this must all be because of immigrants. Of course, at the time that this novel is set, the misfortunes of East Anglia (in fact, probably most of the country) seem to be blamed on witches and witchcraft. Sometimes people can’t just accept the fact that bad things happen, no matter how awful they are; they’d rather believe that it’s actually because of people who don’t attend church regularly, or who may have a disability that makes them seem ‘strange’ or different. Reading The Witchfinder’s Sister I certainly picked up on certain conditions that we know a lot more about today, that at the time must have seemed frightening, unknown and therefore undiagnosed, leading people to mark them out as potential witches. Today, we’d be able to deal with it all a lot better with scientific and medical knowledge.
The only thing I didn’t like was that some parts of the novel felt a little slow and could have been a bit more gripping, in my opinion – but others would disagree, I’m sure. Most of the writing, however, is rich and atmospheric, and I really liked the ending. Though it’s not a quick read due to the language being a little more old fashioned in order to fit the setting, it’s not a particularly hard read and I’m sure anyone with even a small interest in that era – or in history in general – will enjoy reading this novel.
Laura Nazmdeh 4/4
The Witchfinder’s Sister by Beth Underdown
Viking 9780241978030 hbk Mar 2017
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