The Witchfinder’s Sister- Beth Underdown

Beth Underdown is a new author for myself, and “The Witchfinder’s Sister” happens to be her debut novel. According to her website there is no news on any upcoming works.

First and foremost, I have a grievance. I’m pretty sure this grievance is felt on both sides, so most of you will be able to relate. Can we take a second to compare the US cover versus the UK cover????

US cover.png

Don’t get me wrong, the US cover is nice, the theme matches that of the book. The UK cover however, is more aesthetically appealing to me, and would catch my eye more on the shelf than the US cover. Shout out to readers in the UK. . . do you feel the same way over some US covers?

While I have an ever growing list of books to review, some part of me decided it was an awesome idea to add one more thanks to an e-mail from Netgalley. What intrigued me about “The Witchfinder’s Sister” is that it takes place BEFORE Salem. Why that intrigued me is that I feel that the story behind Salem is completely overdone- nothing more can be pulled from it. So the fact that this takes place before, across the ocean, with new characters- I was hooked.

It is 1645, and England is in the 4th year of the Civil War, merely fighting over details of government. While the beginning of the story takes place in a prison, it is not a prison dealing with the war on government, but a war on spirituality led by one man dictated by a list. It is because of this list that “The Witchfinder’s Sister” decides to write her memoir from prison to set the record straight on her brother’s wrongdoings.

Growing up, Matthew Hopkins (witch finder extraordinaire) had certain qualities that set him apart from most children; the most prominent being his scars as a result from a kitchen fire when he was a child. Matthew also had night terrors, was truthful to a point, and sensitive to smell. Most people remarked on the stark contrast of skin color between brother and sister (Alice) but the family chalked it up to the skin composition from the burns healing. Alice was a minister’s daughter who married a servant’s son, going against the grain of tradition and moving away from the family to London to start her own life. Life wasn’t sunshine and roses for the newlyweds. Without knowing anyone in London to help them, her husband struggled to find a job, and Alice struggled to have a baby. Finding work as a gunsmith, Alice’s husband has a tragic accident that kills him, and sets her on an ultimate journey to return home to her brother.

Upon returning to Manningtree, Alice learns that her brother has a split personality vote. It seems Matthew has made friends with men who run the town, bend to their whim, and “make things happen”. The unpopular vote is from the women being blamed for accidents with circumstantial evidence. According to Grace, her brother’s servant, Matthew keeps a list of names and their faults of witchcraft.

“The Witchfinder’s Sister” takes us through Alice’s perspective of watching, gathering information, and trying to thwart her brother every step of the way. It’s only when Alice is bold enough to show her disdain for Matthew’s work that he retaliates and breaks her down mentally.

Will Alice prevail in trying to stop Matthew from his work? Is it witchcraft, or is it bored men with nothing better to do with their high and mighty time?

While I generally enjoyed reading “The Witchfinder’s Sister” occasionally I thought it was a bit dry. Naturally, there has to be some background to a story otherwise the reader is clueless as to what is going on. Being a tale about supposed witchcraft, I was hoping for a bit more “action”. Of course it’s always infuriating sitting back and reading about these pompous men who make the most absurd accusations- I mean, the list of things to look for in a witch is just. . .ridiculous for lack of a more eloquent word.

As far as the writing goes, I enjoyed how Beth Underdown was able to make the story flow. There is a stark moment that sticks out. Underdown has the uncanny ability to make stoning a person to death sound absolutely poetic. To most, this simple sentence is utterly confusing. . .until you read the book and know EXACTLY what I’m talking about. Not to give anything away with the ending, but Underdown writes a BRILLIANT ending that leaves any reader waiting for a continuation on the story, or another standalone novel. I do look forward to see more from Beth Underdown in the future.

I was chosen by Netgalley to received an advanced copy of “The Witchfinder’s Sister” by Beth Underdown in exchange for an honest review. That being said, it has not altered my opinion of the book whatsoever.



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