The Witchfinder's Sister
Booklist Reviews 2017 March #2
Witch hunts didn't start in Salem. Underdown builds upon documentation of trials instigated in 1645 England by Matthew Hopkins, an obsessed preacher's son whose personal demons caused him to see evil in every woman. The narrator and main character is Hopkins' sister, Alice, who recognizes that the accused, rather than causing their neighbors' misfortunes, are simply mentally ill or poor. Alice needs help herself as she is recently widowed, but when her brother takes her in, she's helpless to stop his madness and is forced to assist in his ever-widening search for sorcery. Underdown's well-researched, believable chronicle of persecution brings its era alive and will have readers rapt while they wait to find out the accused women's fates. This story of power being allowed to grow unchecked is perfect for our political climate. That's why, while The Crucible is the obvious read-alike for this book, it also connects nicely with such dystopian classics as 1984 and A Handmaid's Tale. Copyright 2017 Booklist Reviews.
PW Reviews 2017 February #4
This debut historical novel is a well-written dramatization of witch hunting in Europe during the 17th century. Based loosely on the life of a real English witch finder named Matthew Hopkins, the story is narrated by his sister, Alice, who, pregnant, must return to her brother's household in the village of Manningtree after the death of her husband in London. As Matthew's ward, Alice can only watch as her brother's behavior spirals into fanaticism and cruelty. She knows childhood trauma informs his actions—not only was his face disfigured in a mysterious accident as a child, but he was denied the opportunity to follow in their father's footsteps as a minister. As Matthew coldly and methodically goes about the business of "watching" several local women, keeping them awake and bound for hours on end while waiting for their devilish imps to appear, Alice becomes desperate to get to the bottom of what is compelling him. As the hysteria, and his influence, grows, Matthew is called to other communities, forcing Alice to accompany him. After witnessing his failure to stop one particularly unspeakable act, she finally rebels, and he turns on her. Though histrionic towards the end, this is an entertaining yarn for readers who can't get enough of the subject matter.