The Witchfinder’s Sister, Beth Underdown

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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.

Growing up I have always been fascinated with Witchcraft and the persecution of women believed to be witches. It all stemmed from the fact that I am a red-head and was intrigued why women throughout the centuries were almost immediately found guilty of practicing witchcraft just because they had red hair (although women with other hair colors were persecuted too!)… which is supposedly a sign of the devil. If you think about it now it is so crazy that these men and even women used to think this! If somebody was called a witch today because of their red hair they would immediately be laughed at, it’s so ridiculous! My point is though that because I love history and love reading about witchcraft it meant that I was destined to love this novel and love it I do! This novel, this magnificent, brilliant, thrilling novel is incredible! I am so shocked by how much I loved this, I knew I would of course but not to this extent. Something about this book is special and I can’t stop thinking about it. I would already recommend you to read this novel because it is brilliant! Here is a little bit more about this wonderful book.

Long before the horror of the Salem Witch Trials which saw so much destruction and devastation, there were the Manningtree Witch Trials in Essex England, and for many women who lived there, it was a time of pure terror and torment. The Manningtree Witch Trials was a real life event so the fact that this novel is based on these events makes the novel even more terrifying and chilling. The novel is predominately Historical Fiction but it is sprinkled with many true life facts of the witch trial that happened in Essex but this next paragraph will be more about the fictional side of this novel!

The Witchfinder’s Sister starts out in London, England 1645 and follows our protagonist Alice Hopkins. Alice has discovered that she is pregnant however her husband has sadly passed away so she has no choice but to return to her home village of Manningtree, Essex. She will be living with her brother Matthew Hopkins (who was a real person during the witch trials) who is known as ‘The Witchfinder General’. Matthew is a cruel, troubled, violent and sullen individual who has an air of evil about him. He is a nasty piece of work and is not to be messed with. Alice soon discovers that Matthew is not only a man of influence these days rather a merciless and ruthless hunter of witches. His very name incites terror in the hearts of ordinary people for miles around. This is where our novel really begins as Alice tries her best to reign Matthew in; however, Matthew is ruthless and determined and will not be thwarted in his quest to bring these ‘so called’ witches to trial. As Alice continues to try and understand his motives she uncovers some very dark and disturbing secrets which go back not only years but decades to when they were children, however, her discovering these secrets puts her own life in peril.

First off can we please appreciate how incredible the premise of this novel is! That is why I had to read this novel, it captured me straight away and all I could do was surrender to its wonder. The Witchfinder’s Sister is a harrowing, dark tale and is made even more so by the fact that a man named Matthew Hopkins did exist and that the witch trials that take place in this book also happened. Hopkins took the office of Witchfinder general upon himself and this was very much self-appointed and he was never truly recognized by Parliament. This in itself gives great insight into the character of Matthew as it shows just how determined he was to hunt down these witches and how he took the duty upon himself in his own free time. If anything it is sad that somebody could be that disturbed to do such a thing. However, we have to remember as readers that the times were different back then and Witchcraft was seen as a huge problem.

The Witchfinder’s Sister is a very harrowing story for two reasons. One because it is a thrilling, brutal story but secondly because this book highlights how awful it was for women to live during these ‘witch hunts’. These women were persecuted for the most insane things. Back then these poor women were tried if they were just a little different…a little eccentric and the majority of them were lonely women unable to fend for themselves due to mental health or their unfortunate circumstances. It is so tragically sad so I really do appreciate Underdown for highlighting what these women sadly went through.

Our protagonist Alice is absolutely incredible and I really adored her! She is a woman of her time and a woman who thinks for herself and states her beliefs. However back then this was frowned upon so I am sure you can tell that her living in 1645 meant that this got her in A LOT of trouble, especially with her sadistic brother Matthew. Speaking of Matthew! Wow, Underdown has really created an evil mastermind here. His character chills you to your core. He is the product of deficient nurture and weirdly for a moment I actually felt sorry for him! However, then I read about all the heinous things he had done to these poor women so no, I hate him! Such an evil piece of work but his character was so riveting to read! It is really exciting as a reader for your two main characters to be polar opposites. Alice, the sweet loving sister, and Matthew, the creepy messed up brother! It was such a delight and thrill to experience these two characters.

This book is very atmospheric and accurate of the time in which the book is set and for that I applaud Underdown. She instills the fear of witch hunting so masterfully into the reader that you can’t help but feels anxious and tense as you are reading it…yes, her writing is that good! At some points during the novel she made me feel as if I was being persecuted and although I was terrified reading it it was really wonderful to experience these feelings as it shows that I am reading a book by an incredible writer!

Underdown’s writing is incredibly paced and well thought out. Her prose is that of an enchantress, it was magical and captured me until the very final page. The tension she managed to create was wonderful, I could feel this tension growing more and more as the pages turned and it kept me hooked and wanting to read until I couldn’t no more.

I loved many aspects of this novel; I loved the brilliantly crafted story which has an intricately woven depth to it, I adored the characters and I loved the enchanting writing. What I also loved was how this book is set in England but 1640’s England! I am sure many of you by now know that I love history. England is my birth home so to read about it but from a vantage point of centuries ago was perfect as two of my loves were rolled into one! I could sense straight away when I was reading Underdowns descriptive writing that she has done a lot of research…right down to the details of the 16th century. Her writing of the clothing, furniture, possessions of the people who lived there made me feel that I was standing in the street or house watching the story pass by.

To summarise my points I would say that The Witchfinder’s Sister is a deeply moving but haunting account of a very violent period in history and if you adore history like me, which has expertly created fiction woven around it and bound to it then you will simply love this novel! To say I am happy to have read this book is an understatement, it was stunning and I really implore you lovely readers to read it! The Witchfinder’s Sister gets a magical Four Stars from me!

Thank you so much for reading as always fellow book lovers, I appreciate it so much and really appreciate the time you take out of your day to read my reviews, thank you so much! Please do comment below and let me know every thought of yours about this book which is whizzing around in your head. I would love to know whether you love historical fiction as a genre and whether you too are interested in witches and even if you believe in them and the power of magic, I would love to know! Thank you so much again!

Goodbye for now book lovers,

P.S. Here is a preview of the book for all of you lovely readers to enjoy! If you have loved what you have read and want to buy the wonderful novel then you can click the buy on Amazon button and it will take you straight to Amazon U.K.! If you are international then click the Book Depository link underneath it! Thank you so much again for reading!

Book Depository

Publisher; Penguin – Viking

P.P.S. How beautiful is this cover?! I am in book heaven right now!

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190 thoughts on “The Witchfinder’s Sister, Beth Underdown

      1. Yes – so sorry – I sort of forget that I go by my initials as my author name! And it’s a REALLY common name – there are so many Sarahs littering up the place there are even T-shirts for us… And I married a John – so we are the ultimate generic couple:)

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      2. Haha! I can imagine. Thinking back on it I had around 4 teachers call Sarah! With me I used to get frustrated when the teachers spelt my name Amy and not Aimee. Or if they pronounced it wrong and would put a French twist on it. I dont mind but its just not how it is pronounced lol.

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      3. Well, you wouldn’t believe the mess folks make of my surname – Higbee… I think it is more common in the US than it is over here, but I’m regularly called Highbee or spelt with a ‘y’, which is more understandable.

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      1. Anyway the premise of the movie is that the men in this family can time travel and the father Bill Nighy is OBSESSED with books. So instead of going back in time for ‘important’ things he travels back in time so he can read more and more and read his favourite books over and over again.

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      1. Yeah, I first passed up Outlander for about 3 years (back in the 90’s) when the only copy at my Gran’s house was HIDEOUS. When there was literally nothing else I hadn’t read yet, I picked it up anyway – and it became my all time favorite book! 😀

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      1. I’ve been book hopping, at the moment I’m actively going between Dorothy Parker’s “Complete Stories”, “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac (re-read), and “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” by Stowe .

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      1. well my site name is theartanorak – bit of an art buff – actually A level student called Martha – I believe you follow my site – In The Frame?

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