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Historical novel set in Manningtree, Essex (by “a hugely talented writer”)

25th March 2017

The Witchfinder’s Sister by Beth Underdown, historical novel set in Manningtree, Essex.

This is one of the most engaging historical novels I have ever read. A compelling story, beautifully portrayed: the lives and times of good-natured people being turned upside-down, exposing their vulnerability and flaws. Simultaneously sad and uplifting, appalling in its content and inspiring in its delivery, Underdown’s debut novel showcases her as a thorough researcher and a hugely talented writer.

historical novel set in Manningtree

Don’t be fooled by the content, though – the idea of the witchhunt itself is enough to unnerve some, and as a pagan myself I feel a great deal of empathy and sympathy for the suffering of those women. Yet Underdown manages to weave her story with raw human emotion and profound understanding of psychology – psychology of masses, of victims of their time, of ultra-religious minds, and of what today we understand as depression, schizophrenia, neurosis, anxiety, etc.

The portrayal of Essex as a county in trouble is also worthy of note. Essex: the earthly recipient of negative energies, not because of witchcraft itself, but because of the wrong ideas that people so easily and readily dispersed about those with whom they had an issue… I think Underdown understood this even from the first stages of her research – the dense energy that became trapped in a part of land because of such horrible actions against human beings, the loss of power of even local religious leaders themselves struggling against manipulation, fear, and in some cases, mass apathy.

I won’t say much about the story itself, given that Matthew Hopkins is a historical character with a documented life already out there for anyone to find, but mostly because in Underdown’s retelling, the characters are there to be discovered by the reader. I will say this, however: it takes a special kind of talent to turn dark history into a poetic piece of narrative, and Beth Underdown has that talent!

Click here for an interview on Penguin Books Facebook feed with the author.

Sandra for the TripFiction Team

You can follow Beth on Twitter, Facebook and pop over to her website

And catch Sandra on Twitter and find out more about her writing here

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