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.
Inspired by the real-life story of notorious “Witchfinder General” Matthew Hopkins, Beth Underdown’s thrilling debut novel blends spellbinding history with echoes of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale for a truly haunting reading experience.
I’ve always been interested in the history of the witch trials and the unbelievable mindset during those times. If the author’s good, and this one is, I get very frustrated with the docile demeanor of the women and the obviously hateful nature of the accusers. Common sense seems to have been lost while the powerful beat down the powerless with fear and intimidation. All of this drama makes it all too hard to put down!
Underdown has done a wonderful job delivering a well-rounded novel, completed by a surprise ending. The setting is perfect, situations true to times, and plot well-crafted. I feel it’s quite an imaginatively written story, as there’s not a great deal of information about Matthew Hopkins from a personal standpoint.
I recommend for those interested in the era.
***As with all my reviews, I must warn of possible triggers, violence, and adult situations***
About This Literary Chef
Beth Underdown was born in Rochdale in 1987. She studied at the University of York and then the University of Manchester, where she is now a Lecturer in Creative Writing.