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The Manningtree Witches

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Wolf Hall meets The Favourite in this beguiling debut novel that brilliantly brings to life the residents of a small English town in the grip of the seventeenth-century witch trials and the young woman tasked with saving them all from themselves. England, 1643. Puritanical fervor has gripped the nation. And in Manningtree, a town depleted of men Wolf Hall meets The Favourite in this beguiling debut novel that brilliantly brings to life the residents of a small English town in the grip of the seventeenth-century witch trials and the young woman tasked with saving them all from themselves. England, 1643. Puritanical fervor has gripped the nation. And in Manningtree, a town depleted of men since the wars began, the hot terror of damnation burns in the hearts of women left to their own devices. Rebecca West, fatherless and husbandless, chafes against the drudgery of her days, livened only occasionally by her infatuation with the handsome young clerk John Edes. But then a newcomer, Matthew Hopkins, arrives. A mysterious, pious figure dressed from head to toe in black, he takes over the Thorn Inn and begins to ask questions about what the women on the margins of this diminished community are up to. Dangerous rumors of covens, pacts, and bodily wants have begun to hang over women like Rebecca--and the future is as frightening as it is thrilling. Brimming with contemporary energy and resonance, The Manningtree Witches plunges its readers into the fever and menace of the English witch trials, where suspicion, mistrust, and betrayal run amok as a nation's arrogant male institutions start to realize that the very people they've suppressed for so long may be about to rise up and claim their freedom.


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Wolf Hall meets The Favourite in this beguiling debut novel that brilliantly brings to life the residents of a small English town in the grip of the seventeenth-century witch trials and the young woman tasked with saving them all from themselves. England, 1643. Puritanical fervor has gripped the nation. And in Manningtree, a town depleted of men Wolf Hall meets The Favourite in this beguiling debut novel that brilliantly brings to life the residents of a small English town in the grip of the seventeenth-century witch trials and the young woman tasked with saving them all from themselves. England, 1643. Puritanical fervor has gripped the nation. And in Manningtree, a town depleted of men since the wars began, the hot terror of damnation burns in the hearts of women left to their own devices. Rebecca West, fatherless and husbandless, chafes against the drudgery of her days, livened only occasionally by her infatuation with the handsome young clerk John Edes. But then a newcomer, Matthew Hopkins, arrives. A mysterious, pious figure dressed from head to toe in black, he takes over the Thorn Inn and begins to ask questions about what the women on the margins of this diminished community are up to. Dangerous rumors of covens, pacts, and bodily wants have begun to hang over women like Rebecca--and the future is as frightening as it is thrilling. Brimming with contemporary energy and resonance, The Manningtree Witches plunges its readers into the fever and menace of the English witch trials, where suspicion, mistrust, and betrayal run amok as a nation's arrogant male institutions start to realize that the very people they've suppressed for so long may be about to rise up and claim their freedom.

30 review for The Manningtree Witches

  1. 5 out of 5

    Beata

    A superbly written novel set in the 1640s when the Civil War has just begun and when witch hunts continue. The novel based on real events, focuses on a group of women who through their independence are feared and despised in a small community. When a witchfinder, the famous Matthew Hopkins, appears, they are persecuted, accused of witchcraft and taken to Colchester for a trial. The novel is superbly written, atmospheric and with the feel of dread and helplessness. The language is not easy to fol A superbly written novel set in the 1640s when the Civil War has just begun and when witch hunts continue. The novel based on real events, focuses on a group of women who through their independence are feared and despised in a small community. When a witchfinder, the famous Matthew Hopkins, appears, they are persecuted, accused of witchcraft and taken to Colchester for a trial. The novel is superbly written, atmospheric and with the feel of dread and helplessness. The language is not easy to follow but it definitely adds to the authenticity of the period. The characters feel natural and not modern as is often the case with historical fiction. Descriptions of Essex are poetic and it does not surprise as the author is a poet and this is her debut novel. And a remarkable debut! One more remark. This novel deserves a much, much better cover. The one prepared by the Publisher does not catch a reader's eye. On the other hand, it proves that judging a book by its cover may be a mistake. *A big thank-you to A.K. Blakemore, Granta Publications, and NetGalley for arc in exchange for my honest review.*

  2. 4 out of 5

    Fran

    "There is one long, narrow road that runs alongside the riverbank, from the little port of Manningtree...to old St. Mary's Church in Mistley...". People living a marginal existence occupy "a few dozen houses...in various states of disrepair...all moldy thatch and tide-marked...away from the river...rolling hills and fields where the true wealth of Essex [lives]...cows...full of milk...herds mill about neat little manor houses of the yeomen and petty gentry...". The year was 1643. Manningtree had "There is one long, narrow road that runs alongside the riverbank, from the little port of Manningtree...to old St. Mary's Church in Mistley...". People living a marginal existence occupy "a few dozen houses...in various states of disrepair...all moldy thatch and tide-marked...away from the river...rolling hills and fields where the true wealth of Essex [lives]...cows...full of milk...herds mill about neat little manor houses of the yeomen and petty gentry...". The year was 1643. Manningtree had been depleted of men since the English Civil War began. "For most in Manningtree the loss of a healthy steer or a good milker ranks among the greater calamities. The loss of a child, especially a girl child is a more miner misfortune." "...rumors once begun are wont to take on a life of their own." "They are inquisitors...the men walk about town together with a sense of purpose-a purpose everyone knows. Hopkins leads, tall and Bible black...next the portly Mister Stearne...They begin to call Hopkins "Witchfinder." According to Rebecca West, "There is something about [Matthew Hopkins] slant and insubstantial...Black boots, black gloves, black cloak, black ringlets and then a white face floating lost in the midst of this funereal confection...I think he looks like nothing has ever brought him joy...". Under cover of Puritan cleanliness, obedience and modesty, Matthew Hopkins is paid handsomely to discover covens, pacts and unmask witchcraft, focusing on women living on the margins of the small Manningtree community. "Corruption flourishes in this town; unseen and unchallenged...There have been mutterings...of the kind that give rise to accusations. A search ensues for the cause of Thomas Briggs's bewitchment. "Is not your mother the Beldam West? She spoke a malediction upon Master Briggs as the child played by the quay...mother and daughter...all alone...When women think alone, they think evil...It is commonly thought that a tendency to the heresy of witchcraft is passed from mother to daughter...perhaps...a shared debility of the soul...". According the Rebecca West, "My mother and I are like two trees that have grown entangled in the denseness of the wood and find their roots interlocked ripping each other's branches in the wind." Beldam West (Anne West) was accused and tried for sending familiars to trouble Sir Thomas Bowes, his embellished and expanding story really the result of his drunken reverie. "That a very honest man of Manningtree, whom he knew would not speak untruth, affirmed unto him." Rebecca West was soon arrested for consorting with her mother, Beldam West. "The Manningtree Witches" by A. K. Blakemore, written in beautifully crafted literary prose, describes the Witch Craze of the English Civil War and is interspersed with excerpts from the Essex Witch Trials of 1645. Rebecca West's coming-of-age included accusations of witchcraft, imprisonment, teenage angst, stirrings of romance and the reading and understanding of the gospel. Her character development, as well as the detailed descriptions of other women and girls accused of bewitchment, was masterfully penned. This debut work of literary fiction from poet A. K. Blakemore is a read I highly recommend. Thank you Catapult and Net Galley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Beata for your recommendation!

  3. 5 out of 5

    Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer

    Shortlisted for the Costa First Novel award having already been winner of the Desmond Elliott Prize (its inclusion on the longlist drawing me to this book) Winter lays down hard frosts, vitrifying the roads and the rooftops, enforcing seclusion and imposing fasts. Pigs freeze to death in their pens. News slows to a trickle. Letters go astray and are intercepted, the heart’s-blood missives of young lovers and the sober bulletins of generals alike. The rumour is that both armies are quartered aw Shortlisted for the Costa First Novel award having already been winner of the Desmond Elliott Prize (its inclusion on the longlist drawing me to this book) Winter lays down hard frosts, vitrifying the roads and the rooftops, enforcing seclusion and imposing fasts. Pigs freeze to death in their pens. News slows to a trickle. Letters go astray and are intercepted, the heart’s-blood missives of young lovers and the sober bulletins of generals alike. The rumour is that both armies are quartered away for Christmastide, but no definitive word on this subject arrives. An army is a very large thing to lose; losing two begins to look like carelessness. While marching orders and tactical directives deliquesce on the brumal winds, the pyrotechnics of imminent apocalypse shimmer just as rosily on the ice-bound horizon as they ever did. In Ipswich, a sorceress is seen shrieking down the Orwell on a pole, wielding lightning bolts. …………… In Manningtree itself there have been most strange and inexplicable happenings that could be accounted for only by infernal malice. This book was recently included on a very impressive longlist for the Desmond Elliott Prize for Debut fiction which prompted me to read it. This is a fictionalised account of a dark period in English history – the actions of the so-called “Witchfinder General” Matthew Hopkins, who for a brief period in an East Anglia convulsed by the Civil War, effectively revised the idea of witchcraft trials, widely quoted as being responsible in just 2-3 years for as many executions from witchcraft as seen in England in the previous 150 years. The book is set in the eponymous Essex town where his crusade began and is effectively narrated by one of his accused – Rebecca West, a young girl, arrested for witchcraft with her widowed mother (who was believed by Hopkins to be at the centre of the witches activity with another elderly eccentric – Elizabeth Clark). Sometimes directly in the first person, sometimes with Rebecca imagining or recounting scenes she hears about but does not participate in, and sometimes in more of a third party narrator style. The outline of the story that follows is in some ways terribly familiar – not least to anyone who, like me, studied Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” for A-Level: arguments, allegations, hysterical reactions, accusations, arrests, confessions – forced or tactically volunteered, recantations, trials, and executions. And of course it was Hopkins actions and treatises which partly inspired the Salem trials. The book is clearly the subject of detailed and (as far as I can) very accurately rendered research and yet this this is not one of those historical fiction books where either dialogue is used for historical exposition or the narrator’s voice hijacked to cram in some research. And the historical fact is blended with imagination and with gentle (and far from over-laboured) allusions to contemporary relevance – allusions the author allows the reader to form for themselves. The author conveys brilliantly the tensions, petty jealousies, long-held resentments and class/gender biases of the town which of course form the soil in which the accusations and insinuations of witchcraft can be planted and allowed to flourish. The author does examine what might have caused the actions of Hopkins as well as those that encouraged or at least did not hinder him. Partly this is the background of the times: the natural order of divine rule of Kings being overturned by Parliament; a fierce iconoclastic reaction (inspired by both patriotism and direct access to the scriptures) against the perceived perversions of Popery; villages and towns largely devoid of fighting-fit men, both removing their protection from their womenfolk and surely making those of an age left behind feeling a need to prove their prowess and power. I was reminded in some of Hopkins (and his associates) views – in their simultaneous hatred of and obsession with women of the present day Incel movement. And all of this is shot through with fear of the present and future, and with a religiously fanatically view which is long on judgment and short on mercy (it was for me very telling that Hopkins almost obsessive biblical quotations seem to omit the gospels almost entirely, and pretty well the New Testament) and a fanatical belief in providence which struggles to explain the vicissitudes of normal existence as not being of diabolic design. But what the book is really about (as the author says in the Afterword) is the “fears, hopes, desires and insecurities of the women who scratched out their existence on the very edges of society, and who have otherwise gone voiceless, or else been muted by victimhood.” And the author does a brilliant job, principally by the wonderful character of Rebecca in capturing their voices – their (again her words) “character, humour and pride”. We see through Rebecca how impossible it is to avoid accusations of witchcraft once placed: how for example she asks can she provide an alibi if she can apparently be in two places at once via transportation, or supposedly carry out her nefarious schemes at a distance via invisible imps; and how she asks can she testify truthfully to save herself when “I can say again and again, a thousand times.. that I am not a witch and have not traffic with the Devil not his spirits, and it will account for nothing. But if I say once that I am, then it counts for everything” The author is a poet and the language in the book is superbly and lyrically crafted – studded with quite beautiful writing, I have started and ended my review with two examples, but there are many more phrases (“the grass a hard enameled green in the low rays of sunshine, already a crust of young moon visible over the treetops”) The reading experience is visceral, immersive and multi-sensory: you are really placed in the mind and body of the narrator; and in the smells, sights, touch, sounds of 1740s Essex. True winter refuses to leave, tantrums, threatens to scatter abjection all over the country again. Dark clouds flex and leer above the cursed cities and empty fields with a renewed sense of commitment to pathetic fallacy. Riding high. The world seems his; he thought it would feel better than it does. Highly recommended. My thanks to Granta for an ARC via NetGalley

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jasmine

    The Manningtree Witches brings to life the history of a small English town set in the mid-seventeen century where there is the sudden upheaval of witch trials. In this small community that is mostly populated by women due to men joining war, Rebecca West finds herself and the women around her accused of being witches. The new man in town, Matthew Hopkins, self-proclaimed witch-hunter, leads the charge against these women. This rendering of the witch trials is charged with betrayal, first love, s The Manningtree Witches brings to life the history of a small English town set in the mid-seventeen century where there is the sudden upheaval of witch trials. In this small community that is mostly populated by women due to men joining war, Rebecca West finds herself and the women around her accused of being witches. The new man in town, Matthew Hopkins, self-proclaimed witch-hunter, leads the charge against these women. This rendering of the witch trials is charged with betrayal, first love, suspicion, and the desire for freedom at any cost. A. K. Blakemore has accomplished writing both a lyrical and excellently researched novel that flies off the pages. The inclusion of the primary sources that were sprinkled throughout the novel were a nice addition and helps to remind the reader that this story is based on actual history. If you love beautifully written historical fiction, I’d definitely recommend giving this one a read. Thanks to Netgalley, Catapult, and the author for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my opinions!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Lou

    The Manningtree Witches is a richly-imagined, lyrical and beguiling debut historical novel that brilliantly brings to life the residents of a small English town in the grip of the seventeenth-century witch trials and the young woman tasked with saving them all from themselves. Set in 1643, a time when the English Civil War was raging, the county of Essex would become the location of the Manningtree witch trials which claimed between 200-400 lives, and despite being the smallest town in England i The Manningtree Witches is a richly-imagined, lyrical and beguiling debut historical novel that brilliantly brings to life the residents of a small English town in the grip of the seventeenth-century witch trials and the young woman tasked with saving them all from themselves. Set in 1643, a time when the English Civil War was raging, the county of Essex would become the location of the Manningtree witch trials which claimed between 200-400 lives, and despite being the smallest town in England it became the centre of fear, destruction and death. It lies on the southern bank of the River Stour, some ten miles northeast of Colchester and became infamous for its association with Matthew Hopkins, the evil 17th Century (self-proclaimed) Witchfinder General and the man who claimed to hold the Devil's own list of all the witches in England. The period of religious and political upheaval throughout the turbulent years of the English Civil War, coupled with the prevailing rabidly anti-Catholic feeling endemic throughout the puritan population of East Anglia, provided the back-drop to Hopkins' now infamous rise and it was widely thought that several witches in Manningtree regularly practised the dark arts. Although his puritan upbringing certainly gave him the motivation to battle the Devil and all his works, as an impoverished and rather unsuccessful lawyer, Matthew Hopkins was not slow to see the financial benefits such a career and a reign of terror might bring. 21-year-old Manningtree resident Rebecca West is unmarried and resides with her volatile and indomitable widowed mother, Anne Beldam West. They live in abject poverty but Rebecca works as often as she can while also taking care to study the Bible. Hopkins’ campaign targeted single women as they were viewed with deep suspicion in a time when you were supposed to be under the control of a husband or father. The terror and fear unattached widowed and independent local women felt was palpable and impacted their lives greatly. The witch-hunting was to follow a depressingly familiar pattern of popular denunciation, examination, interrogation and ultimately, execution. The torturing of witches to obtain their confession involved sleep deprivation, the use of tight restraints to induce cramps and starvation diets. The sentence of death when it came was by hanging. Hopkins also favoured the infamous "swimming" test, binding the suspect's limbs together and lowering them into the village pond. The logic was murderously simply: God's pure water would reject a witch, causing her to float, while the innocence of those who sank and drowned would assure them of a place in heaven. This is at once a horrific and stunningly beautiful historical novel with a scintillating and enthralling plot and a thoroughly twisty narrative. The atmosphere Blakemore creates is chilling and oppressively claustrophobic and it's clear the book has been extensively researched. The characters are based on genuine people and the historical aspects are all authentic with the vivid descriptions transporting you with ease back in time to an impoverished, filthy town. Told in richly-detailed prose from Rebecca's perspective and with a sense of intense foreboding from the very beginning, this is a dark, disturbing read and tells the tale of terror, superstition, envy, religious zealotry, extreme misogyny and the suffering caused due to misplaced fear of the women. Highly recommended.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Eric Anderson

    In times of social, economic and religious strife within misogynistic societies women are much more likely to be unfairly persecuted and suffer at the hands of authoritarian men. One historical example where this was made blatantly obvious was in the mid-17th century witch trials in England – especially during the civil war and Puritan era. There's a blood-curdling sensational aura to the witch hunts that occurred as they are endemically associated with hysteria, the occult and horrific means of In times of social, economic and religious strife within misogynistic societies women are much more likely to be unfairly persecuted and suffer at the hands of authoritarian men. One historical example where this was made blatantly obvious was in the mid-17th century witch trials in England – especially during the civil war and Puritan era. There's a blood-curdling sensational aura to the witch hunts that occurred as they are endemically associated with hysteria, the occult and horrific means of state-sanctioned punishment. But A.K. Blakemore brings an insightful and refreshing lyrical realism to her fictional depiction of a period in East Anglia and the Home Counties when hundreds of women (and men) were condemned by a charismatic and pious man named Matthew Hopkins who proclaimed himself to be a Witchfinder General. Thankfully this opportunistic charlatan isn't at the centre of the novel and Blakemore focuses instead on the much more interesting perspectives of a group of women who were often persecuted because they were convenient scapegoats or simply didn't conform to the accepted norms of the time living more on the fringes of society. Read my full review of The Manningtree Witches by A.K. Blakemore on LonesomeReader

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jiaqi

    White women have such boring things to say. I was really excited by this premise and I greatly enjoyed some of the prose (although there were some cringe ass lines, like "He wants to fuck something, the world probably." <-- Waka_Flocka_okay.gif), but this turned out to be incredibly limp and disappointing. The gist of the book is basically “women be accused of witchcraft if theyre too independent... men be wanting control and power. Bitches be the daughters of the witches men couldnt burn” and I White women have such boring things to say. I was really excited by this premise and I greatly enjoyed some of the prose (although there were some cringe ass lines, like "He wants to fuck something, the world probably." <-- Waka_Flocka_okay.gif), but this turned out to be incredibly limp and disappointing. The gist of the book is basically “women be accused of witchcraft if theyre too independent... men be wanting control and power. Bitches be the daughters of the witches men couldnt burn” and I am not lying when I say I could have written something more nuanced and interesting at the age of 16. The Twitter post I saw today where a girl named Maddie emailed Judith Butler asking Butler to ask her girlfriend, also named Maddie, to prom on her behalf was better than this. Oh, and, in the year 2021 I'm not interested in books set in the 17th century that uncritically make mention of colonialism and imperialism. I did hope the America angle would come back at the end and it did, but not in a way that was satisfactory to me. I hope that white feminists will pay better attention to the complexities of such a historical period in the future.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Ivana - Diary of Difference

    Wishlist | Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Ko-fi I had the amazing opportunity to participate in another instagram readalong – this time reading the Manningtree Witches by A.K. Blakemore with some amazing bookstagrammers. We even had a wonderful Q&A chat with the author once we finished the book. Huge thank you to the team at Tandem as well as the publisher, Granta Books, for sending me a copy of the book to read and review! Synopsis: England, 1643. Parliament is battling the King; the war Wishlist | Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Ko-fi I had the amazing opportunity to participate in another instagram readalong – this time reading the Manningtree Witches by A.K. Blakemore with some amazing bookstagrammers. We even had a wonderful Q&A chat with the author once we finished the book. Huge thank you to the team at Tandem as well as the publisher, Granta Books, for sending me a copy of the book to read and review! Synopsis: England, 1643. Parliament is battling the King; the war between the Roundheads and the Cavaliers rages. Puritanical fervour has gripped the nation, and the hot terror of damnation burns black in every shadow. In Manningtree, depleted of men since the wars began, the women are left to their own devices. At the margins of this diminished community are those who are barely tolerated by the affluent villagers – the old, the poor, the unmarried, the sharp-tongued. Rebecca West, daughter of the formidable Beldam West, fatherless and husbandless, chafes against the drudgery of her days, livened only by her infatuation with the clerk John Edes. But then newcomer Matthew Hopkins, a mysterious, pious figure dressed from head to toe in black, takes over The Thorn Inn and begins to ask questions about the women of the margins. When a child falls ill with a fever and starts to rave about covens and pacts, the questions take on a bladed edge. My Thoughts: As soon as I laid eyes on the cover and the synopsis, I knew I had to read it. And it didn’t disappoint at all. I just had to shift my expectations a little bit. The Manningtree Witches is a book set in England in 1643, where witch hunters were quite popular and many women were killed after being accused of witchcraft. This book is actually inspired by true events that happened in history. The focus was more on the historical aspect and bringing life to the characters, rather than the supernatural elements. We never get a full clarification whether Beldam West, her daughter Rebecca and the other women were actually witches, and we get a glimpse of their lives and their imprisonment. We get a front row seat of their feelings, and how this impacts them as well as the community. It was so interesting to also get a point of view from the perspective of the witch hunter. As the villain that he is, I loved getting to know his opinion on the situation and his reasoning. “But if a witch can be in two places at once, as you say, then I cannot prove my innocence by those same means. Nor, it seems to me, by any other. I can say again and again, a thousand times, sir, that I am not a witch, and have no traffic with the Devil nor his spirits, and it will account for nothing. But if I say once that I am, then it will account for everything.” The writing is very lyrical and also captures the old-style English. I had to refer to my dictionary a few times, which has now become a rare occasion. And I really enjoyed learning some new words. I’m looking at you – lucre, extemporise, gaol, interlocutor and bray! You can immediately notice the love the author has for poetry. It took me a while to get into it, but after 80 pages I started loving it. There were times when I was confused about whose point of view I am currently reading about. This slightly interrupted my concentration, but the story was wonderful in terms of timeline and storytelling. The only reason of my rating is because my expectations were different going into the book. My need for paranormal elements and a bit of witchcraft weren’t satisfied. However, putting my expectations aside, this book beautifully represents the reality of witch hunting and the struggles so many women had to endure during these times. If you want to read a book about the witch hunting in history, The Manningtree Witches is a wonderful lyrical take on the events that happened in Manningtree. However, if you want a book that has more “witchy” elements – I would suggest you skip this one.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Amanda Hupe

    “Just like a man to suggest the most obvious thing in the world as though it might be revelation to a woman’s cottony mind. When it seems to me all the most obvious things in the world must be done by women, or else they wouldn’t get done.” THE MANNINGTREE WITCHES Thank you NetGalley, A.K. Blakemore, and Dreamscape Media for the opportunity to read this book, the audiobook will be released September 23rd! The Manningtree Witches by A.K. Blakemore is narrated by Sofia Zervudachi. It is 1643 and to b “Just like a man to suggest the most obvious thing in the world as though it might be revelation to a woman’s cottony mind. When it seems to me all the most obvious things in the world must be done by women, or else they wouldn’t get done.” THE MANNINGTREE WITCHES Thank you NetGalley, A.K. Blakemore, and Dreamscape Media for the opportunity to read this book, the audiobook will be released September 23rd! The Manningtree Witches by A.K. Blakemore is narrated by Sofia Zervudachi. It is 1643 and to be frank, not the greatest time period for women. England is currently in the midst of a Civil War and then there is the rise of the Puritans. Rebecca West lives in Manningtree. She is poor and unmarried. Her mother, Beldam West is a widow and is quite feared in the community. However, fear is everywhere these days. Rebecca West has eyes for the clerk, John Edes. He teaches her about the bible, and how to read and write. She can’t help but have a little hope that one day he may turn his eyes on her. But then a man named, Matthew Hopkins comes to town. He makes it his business to know what is going on in town and if there is anything suspicious happening. Suddenly, a child succumbs to raging fits. He mentions the devil and familiars. Accusations are made and one wrong turn can send a woman to the gallows. When you think of the Witch Trials, what comes to mind? That’s right, Salem. But I was shocked how many people don’t realize that there were Witch Trials all throughout Europe. One of the things that I loved most about this book is the research that went into it. In fact, the “villain” is none other than Matthew Hopkins. Matthew Hopkins was a prominent figure during the English Civil War and his title: The Witchfinder General. Just a quick search and you will find that he was the reason for the execution of more than 100 “accused witches” in just two years. Most were women. He wrote the book, The Discovery of Witches and he claimed he started his career in Manningtree. So when he is introduced in this book, I got chills. As you are reading, you can feel the sense of dread whenever he is in the scene. The women are the stars of this book thought. Rebecca West, Judith, their mothers…they were poor women in a society who hated women in general. With the story being partly from Rebecca West’s point-of-view the author is giving her power and her voice, the voice of women who were often silenced. While the beginning is a little slow, it sure picks up. It did get some Crucible vibes as well and the prose is outstanding. Don’t get me started on the narrator. She was amazing! It felt like she was acting out every word and we only had the audio. I could almost hear her actually crying whenever there were tears involved. This is an excellent book to add to your Witchy lists! I rate this book 5 out of 5 stars!

  10. 5 out of 5

    MaryannC. Book Freak

    4.5 actual stars There have been several books recently on witch trials( with another one from author Chris Bohjolian soon to be releasesd) and despite the fact that this is material has been covered before I was still anxious to read this, the synopsis of course was intriguing but this one had me really exited to read and I was thrilled when NetGalley approved me for it. Set in England 1643, young Rebecca West, her mother and some of the town folk's women have come under the suspicion of being wi 4.5 actual stars There have been several books recently on witch trials( with another one from author Chris Bohjolian soon to be releasesd) and despite the fact that this is material has been covered before I was still anxious to read this, the synopsis of course was intriguing but this one had me really exited to read and I was thrilled when NetGalley approved me for it. Set in England 1643, young Rebecca West, her mother and some of the town folk's women have come under the suspicion of being witches. Led by the imposing, dressed in black religious zealot Matthew Hopkins who is aptly named the Witchfinder General, Hopkins becomes a celebrity of sorts among small towns for snuffing out and ridding those who are purported to consort with the Devil. While Rebecca and the women defend themselves against the accusations and betrayals of their neighbors Rebecca becomes attracted to a young clerk, handsome John Edes who ultimately betrays her and while she knows that she must fight for her life to survive, she also must fight against the burgeoning sexual stirrings within her. The atmosphere of the book was dark and chilling with the Witchfinder's relentless interrogations and his seemingly enjoyment of the persecutions he puts into play. Also what stands out for me about this book is that despite Rebecca's young age, her sensibilities of the situation at stake was deeply introspective and mature for one so young. Her awareness of Matthew Hopkins and his hypocritical pursuit of her and the other women accused was almost amusing to her because she knew he struggled with his own dark desires and sins. Her calm demeanor with everything going around her and the lives at stake I think led her to accept her fate but also do what she must do in order to survive. Rebecca's story was more than just a story of persecution but a deeply felt look into her soul and the reasoning of others involved in the witch hunts. Recommended. Thank you to author A.K Blakemore and NetGalley for providing me a copy of this in exchange for my review. All opinions are my own.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Sarah-Hope

    Set in the 1640, during England's Civil War, A.K. Blakemore's The Manningtree Witches is, without a doubt, the most perceptive, most beautifully written novel exploring witch trials that I've read. While not a huge genre, there definitely is a core body of witch trial novels and Blakemore's novel rises above all of them. Why? • It's historically informed, drawing on trial transcripts, legal documents, and other writing from that period. The characters based on historical figures appear to be true Set in the 1640, during England's Civil War, A.K. Blakemore's The Manningtree Witches is, without a doubt, the most perceptive, most beautifully written novel exploring witch trials that I've read. While not a huge genre, there definitely is a core body of witch trial novels and Blakemore's novel rises above all of them. Why? • It's historically informed, drawing on trial transcripts, legal documents, and other writing from that period. The characters based on historical figures appear to be true to their lives as documented in the historical record. • The language it's written in is historically appropriate and downright beautiful, without heavy-handed pretensions. • While modern readers can identify with Rebecca, the central character, she hasn't been turned into a present-day everywoman. Blakemore creates her as a woman of her time. • It isn't a clear cut, good guys/bad guys novel. Some characters are more sympathetic than others, but none of them are the sort of self-assured caricatures that often populate with trial fiction. Even the characters we hate because of their certainty have occasional doubts. • The novel allows readers to reflect on their own time, but never lets them forget that their time and the time of the novel are substantially different. I received a free electronic review copy of this title from the publisher; the opinions are my own.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Tamara Agha-Jaffar

    It is 1643 in Essex, England. The civil war is raging between the Puritans and Royalists. The time is rife with superstition and fear. Neighbor turns against neighbor. Scapegoats for life’s tragedies are hunted and persecuted. This is the setting for The Manningtree Witches by A.K. Blakemore, a blending of fact with fiction of the Puritan witch trials in which several women were executed for witchcraft in 1645 in the village of Manningtree. The protagonist is Rebecca West, the 19-year-old daught It is 1643 in Essex, England. The civil war is raging between the Puritans and Royalists. The time is rife with superstition and fear. Neighbor turns against neighbor. Scapegoats for life’s tragedies are hunted and persecuted. This is the setting for The Manningtree Witches by A.K. Blakemore, a blending of fact with fiction of the Puritan witch trials in which several women were executed for witchcraft in 1645 in the village of Manningtree. The protagonist is Rebecca West, the 19-year-old daughter of Beldam West, the ostensible ring-leader of the witches. Life was never easy in Manningtree, but it takes a turn for the worse when the mysterious Matthew Hopkins, “the witchfinder,” moves into the village. Hopkins is on a mission to ferret out witches and bring them to trial. He gives full vent to his misogynism under the guise of doing “God’s work,” sniffing here and sniffing there until he finds a suitable target. His laser-sharp focus pinpoints weak, vulnerable, impoverished, elderly widows living on the margins of society who are easy prey. Through Rebecca’s eyes, we see the patriarchal hunting machine in full force as it singles out these women, solicits testimony against them, examines their frail bodies for evidence of satanic activities, uses their poverty as a sign of weakness, demonizes their pets, tortures them to solicit confessions, and twists their words to obtain a conviction and execution. Logic and common sense are in short supply. Rebecca, caught in the web of conspiracy against these women because of her mother, is temporarily incarcerated with them but obtains her release by telling the patriarchal court what it wants to hear. The novel unfolds primarily through Rebecca’s first-person point of view. But it shifts sporadically to third person to describe scenes and events in which Rebecca is not present. These unnecessary shifts can be jarring and confusing. Rebecca’s diction is detailed and evocative. Replicating the idioms of 17th century England, it is replete with graphic descriptions, pungent odors, and immersive imagery. The diction is generally effective but can occasionally veer toward being too flowery and obscure. The novel’s strength lies in its realistic character portrayals and in its lyrical description of the sights, sounds, smells, squalor, and poverty of 17th century England. Superstition, fear, Puritan fervor, lies, petty jealousies, and betrayal coalesce to scapegoat destitute women living on the fringes of society. The tension gradually builds up as layer upon layer of “evidence” against the women accumulates until the unthinkable happens. The portrayal of the misogynistic Matthew Hopkins, clothed head to toe in black, is particularly effective as he sniffs around for vulnerable, elderly women to victimize. He is simultaneously sexually aroused and repulsed by a woman’s flesh. Rebecca’s mother, the fearless Beldam, emerges as the most powerful female. She is a crone in every sense of the word—a woman who refuses to be intimidated by the patriarchy, who will not submit to male domination regardless of the consequence to her personal safety, who exercises agency, and whose voice is not silenced until the patriarchy puts the noose around her neck to silence it. An atmospheric plunge into a tragic period in English history. Highly recommended. My book reviews are also available at www.tamaraaghajaffar.com

  13. 4 out of 5

    Leah

    The evil that men do… It is 1643, the time of the English Civil War. In the town of Manningtree in Essex, men are scarce as the young and fit are off fighting. Rebecca West and her widowed mother are among the women who live on the margins of society, looked down on by the respectable matrons of the town for the crimes of being poor and husbandless. But when Matthew Hopkins arrives in town bringing his Puritanical ideas regarding witches, suddenly these women are seen as a threat – the cause of a The evil that men do… It is 1643, the time of the English Civil War. In the town of Manningtree in Essex, men are scarce as the young and fit are off fighting. Rebecca West and her widowed mother are among the women who live on the margins of society, looked down on by the respectable matrons of the town for the crimes of being poor and husbandless. But when Matthew Hopkins arrives in town bringing his Puritanical ideas regarding witches, suddenly these women are seen as a threat – the cause of any ill which may befall one of the town’s worthy residents. And when Matthew Hopkins decides to style himself Witchfinder, the women find themselves in danger… This is a re-imagining of the true story of the Essex witch trials of 1644-7, led by Hopkins and resulting in the deaths of many women, several of them from Manningtree and Mistley where the book is set. Hopkins died young and very little is known of him other than his witchfinding, and the women are mostly known only through the records of the trials, so Blakemore has created her story from little more than bare bones. In the afterword, she suggests that her aim was to give a voice to these voiceless women, and to tell the story of the persecuted rather than the persecutor. I’d say she succeeds very well. Rebecca tells us the story in her own voice, and it is certainly not the voice of a shrinking victim. She may be powerless but she has strong opinions and a rebellious nature, and a sense of humour that helps her through the darkest times. She recognises the unfairness in society between rich and poor, man and woman, but there’s nothing she can do to change that so her aim is to get through life as best she can regardless. She has the benefit of physical attractiveness, but her low social status means that men are likely to look to her for sex rather than marriage. She doesn’t think of her mother and her friends as witches, but she knows they have a lot of superstitions, use folklore remedies in treating illnesses, and are not beyond cursing their irreproachable neighbours when angered. England has been a religious mess since Henry VIII, and the “true faith” has changed so many times it feels understandable that Rebecca and her kind have developed a kind of cynicism over the whole subject. Hopkins, however, is a righteous man, sure of his faith, the most important line in his personal Bible being “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live”. Or is it that he’s simply a straightforward religious misogynist, interpreting his sexual feelings towards women through the prism of his Biblical belief that all women are a) sinful and b) cursed? Blakemore gives the reader room to believe either version of him, or both. The story itself is well told, with an excellent mix of light and dark – the light provided by Rebecca’s resilience and humour, and the dark by the events in which she finds herself caught up. I felt that perhaps the winding-up section at the end went on a little too long, somewhat reducing the impact of the trial and its aftermath, but otherwise I felt the pacing was good, holding my interest throughout. There is, however, one major problem with the book which prevents me giving it the full five stars, and that, I’m afraid, is in the writing. Blakemore clearly has a lot of talent, but my one piece of advice to her would be to throw out the thesaurus and buy a good dictionary. It is much better to use a plain word correctly than a fancy word wrongly: for example, “rubbing one hand on a sordid apron” – yes, in some contexts sordid and dirty can be synonyms, but not this one. Then there are the shrieking anachronisms – “for shits and giggles”, “coin-operated”, “smack me upside the head”, etc. And the plain errors – who instead of whom, and so on. And sometimes the descriptive passages run away with her completely – “The sunbeams bouncing in through the parlour window feel like hot spindles to his eyes, and slice right through the soft, compromised meat of his head” or “While marching orders and tactical directives deliquesce on the brumal winds, the pyrotechnics of imminent apocalypse shimmer just as rosily on the ice-bound horizon as they ever did.” I hasten to add it’s not all like this by any means – for the most part her writing is very good, but she is clearly trying too hard to be “creative”, and there’s enough of it that it was a constant irritation to me, and took away from my ability to get lost in the story. It is ultimately the author’s responsibility to get the writing right, but yet again I have to ask, what did the editor do to earn his/her fee with this one? The fact that I still enjoyed it despite these problems is an indication of the strengths of the story, the characterisation and Blakemore’s underlying writing talent. Hopefully as she gains experience she will learn to rely on these things and not stretch too far in a bid for an original turn of phrase. I look forward to reading more from her in the future. NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Granta Publications. www.fictionfanblog.wordpress.com

  14. 4 out of 5

    Lucie Morningstar

    3.5 stars As a self-proclaimed obsessive of the rich history of witchcraft in Britain, I am automatically drawn to any book set during the witch trials. The author does a wonderful job of setting the scene and reflecting the language, giving a good perspective to what it was like living in England during the witch hunts. The reader gets to see it all through the eyes of a young woman called Rebecca who gets caught up in the hysteria created by Matthew Hopkins, Witchfinder General. Whether or not 3.5 stars As a self-proclaimed obsessive of the rich history of witchcraft in Britain, I am automatically drawn to any book set during the witch trials. The author does a wonderful job of setting the scene and reflecting the language, giving a good perspective to what it was like living in England during the witch hunts. The reader gets to see it all through the eyes of a young woman called Rebecca who gets caught up in the hysteria created by Matthew Hopkins, Witchfinder General. Whether or not Rebecca is actually a witch is left fairly ambiguous, which I guess is where the story fell a little flat for me. I wanted more than hints at her identity and maybe a bit more of a sinister atmosphere. Even Hopkins didn't come across as the big monster that other fiction and nonfiction books have portrayed him to be.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Martin Koerner

    Making a mockery of the ratings system here aren’t I? But books must be judged against like books and whilst this is no ‘To the Lighthouse’, it doesn’t set out to be. It is a retelling of the witch trials in Essex, and if that doesn’t get you excited then join the club, but the prose is mesmerisingly good and the story is compelling, filled with sympathetic, well-rounded characters. It is ultimately about the life and plight of women of any time, a tone which can be hard to convey subtly but whi Making a mockery of the ratings system here aren’t I? But books must be judged against like books and whilst this is no ‘To the Lighthouse’, it doesn’t set out to be. It is a retelling of the witch trials in Essex, and if that doesn’t get you excited then join the club, but the prose is mesmerisingly good and the story is compelling, filled with sympathetic, well-rounded characters. It is ultimately about the life and plight of women of any time, a tone which can be hard to convey subtly but which Blakemore does with respect, insight, nuance and beauty.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Monika

    The Manningtree Witches is a perfect dark, atmospheric, suspected-witch story set in 17th century you need to read / listen this Spooktober 2021. This is an English witch trial story of a young woman trying to find a way to exist amidst accusations. The author has written the women to have immense maturity and perseverance for the time they lived in. They may or may not have been like that, but the contemporary portrayal amazed me. The portrayal of men on the other hand, ugh they haven’t changed The Manningtree Witches is a perfect dark, atmospheric, suspected-witch story set in 17th century you need to read / listen this Spooktober 2021. This is an English witch trial story of a young woman trying to find a way to exist amidst accusations. The author has written the women to have immense maturity and perseverance for the time they lived in. They may or may not have been like that, but the contemporary portrayal amazed me. The portrayal of men on the other hand, ugh they haven’t changed in centuries; undermining and accusing women. Anyway, this is a slow moving distinctively mysterious story that will demand your attention while reading, but I promise it is worth it. Thank you Dreamscape media via Netgalley for the alc.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Kristi

    “We are like two tree’s that have grown entangled in the denseness of the wood. Ripping at each other’s branches in the wind.” I just finished listening to The Manningtree Witches, a fictional story built around a horrifying truth, and I am still lingering in the atmosphere that A.K. Blakemore has created. I loved it so much that I’ve ordered a hard cover copy to add to my shelves. Set in the 1640’s, it’s narrated primarily by Rebecca West who lives with her widowed mother, Beldam West. As the Pu “We are like two tree’s that have grown entangled in the denseness of the wood. Ripping at each other’s branches in the wind.” I just finished listening to The Manningtree Witches, a fictional story built around a horrifying truth, and I am still lingering in the atmosphere that A.K. Blakemore has created. I loved it so much that I’ve ordered a hard cover copy to add to my shelves. Set in the 1640’s, it’s narrated primarily by Rebecca West who lives with her widowed mother, Beldam West. As the Puritanical intensity and battle against paganism rises, so do the accusations of witchcraft and consorting with the devil. Beset by the new inn-keeper, Matthew Hopkins, himself a self-proclaimed witch finder, he leads an attack against the women of Manningtree and beyond. Hopkins and his misogynistic followers soon imprison, victimize and execute many of the women of the county that are labeled as witches – especially those seen as not repentant against the sins they’ve committed. “If you’re on the right end of the scaffold, do you watch those to the left of you twist? Do you watch them die attentively to better understand what is to happen to you or is it best not to?” This is a gorgeously written and emotive historical fiction with strong themes of friendship, courage, hopelessness and duplicity in the face of a bleak situation. Narration: Sofia Zervudachi does an exceptional job – she carried the exceptional prose beautifully. A true delight to listen to. There is much to be learned from the past in this unsettlingly dark and insightful story; I cannot recommend it highly enough! My thanks to Dreamscape Media for the gifted ALC!

  18. 4 out of 5

    Patty

    The setting for A. K. Blakemore’s book of fiction, The Manningtree Witches, is England during the First Civil War. The Puritans were waging a war against Catholicism while advocating purity and piety. According to Matthew Hopkins—in his book The Discovery of Witches--it was while in Manningtree during this time that he began his career as a Witchfinder General. From 1644-1647, Mathew Hopkins is thought to have overseen the execution of between 100-300 women and men for Maleficium: act of witchcra The setting for A. K. Blakemore’s book of fiction, The Manningtree Witches, is England during the First Civil War. The Puritans were waging a war against Catholicism while advocating purity and piety. According to Matthew Hopkins—in his book The Discovery of Witches--it was while in Manningtree during this time that he began his career as a Witchfinder General. From 1644-1647, Mathew Hopkins is thought to have overseen the execution of between 100-300 women and men for Maleficium: act of witchcraft. With John Stearne and female assistants, allegations set forth by the aggrieved were investigated utilizing witch-pricking (jabbing needles into sores and marks. If there is no pain or blood, they are a witch). Master Hopkins was often compensated for his services, sometimes earning 23 pounds which today amounts to 3,800 pounds ($5,373.57). Women accounted for the vast majority of people accused of witchcraft. They were the spinsters, old, independent, needy, educated, etc. of the community; the ones that did not fit the paradigm of wife or mother. As such, they were seen as being unfeminine and expendable; a threat to the patriarchy. As Rebecca West says in this book, “Men like to keep women under their power by force” (chapter 26). Rebecca West is the teenaged daughter of Beldam (an ugly, old woman)—Anne, and the person relating the majority of this story. They—along with widow Clarke (aka The Crone), Helen Clarke, Anne Leech, Margaret Moone, and Elizabeth Goodwin—are accused of being members of a coven of witches. Of these six, four are widows. They are accused of Maleficia such as causing a miscarriage; the death of a woman, a mule, and cattle; and in Bedlam West’s case, causing the wreck of a ship and the death of all aboard. The frenzy begins when the 25-year-old Mathew Hopkins comes to Manningtree and starts delivering sermons that center on witches and the devil. Many of his lessons lean towards the salacious. For example, when instructing the citizenry about Sathan, he states that he is in, “moist places of the forest…to lame the horse of a gentleman…or find a place to nestle warm between the parted thighs of some country lass, whereon she dreams of marriage to a Turk who uses his tongue down there” (chapter 4). Rebecca is an interesting young woman who wages an internal struggle between her religion, and her feelings and desires. She is attracted to John Edes, a man teaching her the Puritan catechism, and how to read and write. Rebecca sees this kind man as a way out of her present situation of poverty. There aren’t many men in town (see Bedlam West’s crime). Her turmoil is exemplified during a lesson in John Edes room. Rebecca is contemplating an erotic dream she had the previous night. While sitting close to him, she cannot stop admiring his looks, his hands, his accidental touch. As they are discussing that sin defiles the whole man, that the devil resides in everyone, she ponders, “If he saw me and knew me truly, he would despise me, despise what it is I hold inside me. I wonder if this is what all women eventually come to know—a choice each comes to make between obscuring her true self in exchange for the false regard of a good man, or allowing herself the freedom to be as she truly is as broken, as course, as hopeless as he. Or is it only me?” (chapter 7) I enjoyed this book. It is about a subject I’ve read up on, and it brings to fictional life some of the people involved. The only thing that bothered me was the extensive vocabulary. I wound up looking up 47 words, and I consider myself somewhat more literate than Rebecca who uttered/thought them. Yes, some of them could be seen from that time, but others like tumesce, battology, intransigence, and termagant had to be looked up. I have no problem with this myself, but it interrupted my enjoyment of this book. I’d like to thank NetGalley and Catapult Press for the opportunity to read and review this book.

  19. 5 out of 5

    James

    'The Manningtree Witches' (2021) - is A. K. Blakemore's debut novel set in 1640s Manningtree (North Essex) which recounts the story of Matthew Hopkins, self styled Witchfinder General and the subjects/ victims of his witch hunts, subsequent trials and hangings. This is a well trodden literary path... The Salem witch trials, Salem's Lot, The Crucible, Scarlet Letter, Daylight Gate (et al) and countless others. Comparisons are therefore clearly inevitable, nevertheless... Blakemore has written a gr 'The Manningtree Witches' (2021) - is A. K. Blakemore's debut novel set in 1640s Manningtree (North Essex) which recounts the story of Matthew Hopkins, self styled Witchfinder General and the subjects/ victims of his witch hunts, subsequent trials and hangings. This is a well trodden literary path... The Salem witch trials, Salem's Lot, The Crucible, Scarlet Letter, Daylight Gate (et al) and countless others. Comparisons are therefore clearly inevitable, nevertheless... Blakemore has written a great and well researched novel, told largely from the perspective of Rebecca West (a subject of Hopkins attentions) and referencing court transcripts and 'confessions' of the day. 'Manningtree Witches' is compellingly, insightfully and intelligently written - most definitely a page turner. A haunting and chilling story of the persecution of disadvantaged and marginalised women during the time of the English Civil War - troubled and chaotic times, perfect for Hopkins purposes. It is an all too real and truly frightening story - all the more so for not being confined purely to the pages of history. Witch hunts and witch trials, metaphorical and otherwise are sadly still very much with us in certain communities and societies. Similarly there's plenty of scope (as recent history has unfortunately shown us) for a pseudo charismatic leader to attain power and galvanise the disenfranchised to believe (more or less) whatever they are told, just in the same way that Matthew Hopkins once did. Back to the novel - it's a very impressive book (debut or otherwise) and not to be missed. I very much look forward to seeing what Blakemore is going to write next.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    This was a very well written and researched novel. The entire premise was very interesting as is the history of this dark time in 17th century England. The abuse of power, the complete helplessness of those accused and the absolute fear among the residents of small communities was very well depicted. I wanted to like it but I was just bored a lot of the time. The narrator for the story did a great job with the accents but I just couldn't get into the story. It is a very slow paced story that has This was a very well written and researched novel. The entire premise was very interesting as is the history of this dark time in 17th century England. The abuse of power, the complete helplessness of those accused and the absolute fear among the residents of small communities was very well depicted. I wanted to like it but I was just bored a lot of the time. The narrator for the story did a great job with the accents but I just couldn't get into the story. It is a very slow paced story that has a satisfying ending. I think it was just not a story for me.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Naomi

    I loved the concept, the characters were so detailed and put together and the history of the novel felt well researched. The afterword was really eye opening. HOWEVER, this was really difficult to read for me, I wanted to love it but just couldn’t get going most days with it. The poetic language was too distracting and made for a slow pace in the narrative that often felt disjointed. Thank you to Tandem Collective, Granta and AK Blakemore for my gifted copy.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Bookish Bethany

    This book is excellent, even more so for a debut and by such a young, promising writer. I'm going through a bit of witchy phase at the moment and I began this book feeling a little disappointed by the lack of the supernatural, but this take on the witch trials from a perspective of a young woman is fantastic. You feel all the frustration of the women, all the injustices of the inescapable accusations against them. You see life shift in this novel. The characters are compelling, especially the po This book is excellent, even more so for a debut and by such a young, promising writer. I'm going through a bit of witchy phase at the moment and I began this book feeling a little disappointed by the lack of the supernatural, but this take on the witch trials from a perspective of a young woman is fantastic. You feel all the frustration of the women, all the injustices of the inescapable accusations against them. You see life shift in this novel. The characters are compelling, especially the portrait of Hopkins - his callousness and all the hypocrisy.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Chiara Liberio

    The Manningtree Witches : A dark account of the Manningtree witch trials 4.5 stars As I approached The Manningtree Witches, I was wondering how it would be different from other novels that fictionalize witch trials as, after all, the plot is often very similar. I can gladly say this novel did not disappoint me. The Manningtree Witches, which relies on historical characters and records, focuses on the first victims of the massive witch hunts that took place in Essex during the English Civil War and The Manningtree Witches : A dark account of the Manningtree witch trials 4.5 stars As I approached The Manningtree Witches, I was wondering how it would be different from other novels that fictionalize witch trials as, after all, the plot is often very similar. I can gladly say this novel did not disappoint me. The Manningtree Witches, which relies on historical characters and records, focuses on the first victims of the massive witch hunts that took place in Essex during the English Civil War and claimed up to 300 lives. We are in Manningtree during the English Civil War, precisely in the period 1645-1647, and from the very start we get glimpses of the effects of war, such hunger and poverty, particularly on widowed or defenseless women. The Puritan influence in the area is strong, but as the self-appointed Witchfinder General Matthew Hopkins, a somber, pious figure dressed in black, settles in Manningtree bringing an atmosphere of menace and suspicion to the place, his search for sinfulness gives a pretext to mount accusations toward a group of women living on the fringes of society, their dirty rags and deformed bodies in sharp contrast with Puritan cleanliness and their curses, drunken “anarchic laughter” and bawdy language as their only weapon. Most characters are wonderfully complex: from the multi-faceted Witchfinder, half-opportunist half-believer for whom sexual excitement mingles with religious zeal, to the formidable cast of women. Among these, the focus is on the young Rebecca West, who is in love with the scribbler who catechizes her and whose point of view provides the most valuable insights into this world: as she ponders her place in society, her alleged sinfulness and marginality she fully understands what counts as holy, the equation between damnation and poverty and the way witchcraft can give women a language and an identity. For this reason, the novel is also a feminist study in character development and a quest for a place in the world and a language that differs from the pattern of violence and damnation that is handed down from mother to daughter (“the violence of my mother’s tale”). Other than giving a voice to forgotten victims, the novel also successfully exposes the mechanisms of power formation, how the social tissue is weakened as mobs are manipulated, women are scapegoated and mothers and daughter are set against each other. It captures how witch hunts intersected with the historical climate and were exploited in the wider context to uphold and consolidate Puritan values and power. When I started to read this novel, which I did without knowing anything about the author, my very first thought was that it must be written by a poet, as the prose is wonderfully dark, immersive, rich and mesmerizing. In many chapters the sensation of threat and menace was palpable, and I felt as if I was stepping into some Dutch painting and the painting was coming alive with its vibrant details, the rays of light and sombre shadows, the putrid smells, be it public house, dingy interior, church pew, or street. The command of archaic words and the colourful expressions woven in the scintillating dialogues makes for a wonderful reading experience. A highly recommended read, dark, tense, captivating and informative. I am grateful to Netgalley and Granta for my ARC in exchange for an honest review

  24. 4 out of 5

    Stephen Robert Collins

    Mathew Hopkins Witchfinder General who was 27 when died of TB a gift from the devil. Utter serial killer who murdered over 100-300 people in the name of witchcraft. He stood out all in black from wide top boots to tight sexy leggings that curved around his bottom. All black even his beard with Van dyke style satanic look. A statement pieces. The Manningtree is real place and the so called Witches did too. This not book that can have Happy ending but has to stick to history. The description of the Mathew Hopkins Witchfinder General who was 27 when died of TB a gift from the devil. Utter serial killer who murdered over 100-300 people in the name of witchcraft. He stood out all in black from wide top boots to tight sexy leggings that curved around his bottom. All black even his beard with Van dyke style satanic look. A statement pieces. The Manningtree is real place and the so called Witches did too. This not book that can have Happy ending but has to stick to history. The description of the simple thinks like eating is wonderful told. Only down side in the book is the print it stunk. So small.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Mocha Girl

    This is an imagined retelling of true events amid the frenzied witch hunt era during the English “civil war” during the mid-1600s. The dispute is consuming scarce resources (able-bodied men, food, money) leaving farms to the care of women and children. Mother Nature exacerbates things by serving harsh winters, flooding, and doses of pestilence to ruin the struggling crops. Poor nutrition, an increased workload, and disease have caused a noticeable increase in miscarriages and childhood deaths. W This is an imagined retelling of true events amid the frenzied witch hunt era during the English “civil war” during the mid-1600s. The dispute is consuming scarce resources (able-bodied men, food, money) leaving farms to the care of women and children. Mother Nature exacerbates things by serving harsh winters, flooding, and doses of pestilence to ruin the struggling crops. Poor nutrition, an increased workload, and disease have caused a noticeable increase in miscarriages and childhood deaths. With the central government distracted, it is the perfect setting for the superstitious, fanatical, Puritans to take matters into their own hands to root out the cause of God’s ire on his people and exact punishment on those responsible. After all, the Devil has to have human accomplices in their midst. The author’s world-building is very good - the use of period’s terms and language adds to the place setting. She also recounts the techniques used to extract confessions and weaves in documented testimonies used by Matthew Hopkins and his partner, John Stearne, who were largely self-appointed witchfinders ultimately responsible for over 200 convictions (deaths). From four-hundred-year-old notes, she created rich, full-bodied characters - both the prosecutors and their Manningtree victims - each with personality, spunk, conviction, and wit. At the center is a young girl, Rebecca West, her widowed mother, Anne (Beldam) West, and their neighbors who unfortunately are widowed/single, poor, illiterate, independent (and outspoken) women -- easy and obvious targets in a patriarchal (and a bit misogynistic) society -- it doesn’t take much for them to become the town’s pariahs. This could easily be a study on human nature as we read how neighbors bear false witness against each other as the accusations against these women grow more absurd and preposterous with each telling. The madness and perversion from the sexually oppressed Puritans continued when the accused were subjected to body searches and probing questions surrounding “copulation with the Devil.” While coverage of witch trials has been done before, A.K. Blakemore offers a robust take on a familiar story. Fans of historical fiction will not be disappointed.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Ricky Schneider

    The prose of this 17th century witch-hunt tale casts a powerful spell and it almost saves the straightforward story from its predictable plot but the promising characters are ultimately sacrificed at the lackluster pyre of a banal narrative. To say The Manningtree Witches was a slow burn would be wrong because it would imply a kinetic energy building to a blazing payoff and that couldn't be further from what this ultimately is. Blakemore writes in lush, period-appropriate but wry and sardonic st The prose of this 17th century witch-hunt tale casts a powerful spell and it almost saves the straightforward story from its predictable plot but the promising characters are ultimately sacrificed at the lackluster pyre of a banal narrative. To say The Manningtree Witches was a slow burn would be wrong because it would imply a kinetic energy building to a blazing payoff and that couldn't be further from what this ultimately is. Blakemore writes in lush, period-appropriate but wry and sardonic style that is instantly beguiling but unfortunately, there just aren't enough interesting or inventive ideas here to sustain the 304 page count. Perhaps the scope and creativity of the story were constricted by Blakemore's adherence to the true story and historical accounts of these trials but that noose could easily have been loosened to give the novel room to breathe and maybe even fly. However, what we are saddled with is a simple, familiar tale that is upsetting and confounding, as we know the witch trials to be, without adding anything particularly insightful or innovative. Blakemore can clearly write wonderful prose but her obvious talent is not given the chance to realize its potent potential within the confines of this dull storyline. To be fair, my enjoyment of The Manningtree Witches may have been tempered by my recent reading of Arthur Miller's classic, The Crucible. That story was, of course, similar to this one in many ways. However, I felt that play explored its source material with a veracity and urgency that made that reading experience riveting and dynamic in ways that were sorely missing here. Aside from the charming and complex narration from (the main character) Beck's POV, the other strength of this novel was its characters in general. Blakemore concocts a complex and compelling cast for her novel that each slowly peel back layer after layer to reveal nuanced and enchanting portraits of what these real people may have been like. I mostly enjoyed our main protagonist, Rebecca West, as she bucks against the radical Puritanical society she is condemned to. The villains are maniacal and ferociously ambitious yet feel realistically fragile as well. I just wish there was more meat on this bare bones plot for them to really dig into. The Manningtree Witches was an enjoyable enough indictment of the patriarchal society of the 1600's. It clearly illustrates how its androcentric strength was so delicate that any woman who was remotely independent or unique was a threat to its perceived power, influence and even its very existence. This is a debut and I have no doubt that A.K. Blakemore has many more tricks up her proverbial sleeve. I will certainly be more than game to follow her career going forward but this novel was disappointingly lacking in too many areas for me to recommend it wholeheartedly.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Angharad

    4+ stars Of the handful of fiction titles based on witch trials that I've read, this is definitely my favourite. It's historically accurate, has my ideal balance of dismal reality and phantasmagoric 'witchcraft' and is written in a style that marries perfectly with the setting. I see that the author is also a poet- that comes as no surprise to me having read her prose in The Manningtree Witches. What I loved most about it -and there were many things I loved- was that the characterisation of Matthew 4+ stars Of the handful of fiction titles based on witch trials that I've read, this is definitely my favourite. It's historically accurate, has my ideal balance of dismal reality and phantasmagoric 'witchcraft' and is written in a style that marries perfectly with the setting. I see that the author is also a poet- that comes as no surprise to me having read her prose in The Manningtree Witches. What I loved most about it -and there were many things I loved- was that the characterisation of Matthew Hopkins reminded me just how much good writing can manipulate my feelings towards characters, even ones I believe I have already judged. Sympathy for the Devil? This was dark, daring and delicious and I will read anything else this author writes.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Tina

    The subject is one I’m familiar with, but this time it’s told in the first person by one of the accused women. The author has imagined the characters beautifully and added an interesting twist into Matthew Hopkins motivation. It seemed to me that the author used a little magic -. I’m not sure if some of the words are true to the era or from her imagination. Similar enough to understand, just different enough to add a hint of poetry. Lovely!

  29. 4 out of 5

    Andy Weston

    A good story based on actual events, but certainly nothing special. With the amount of hype about its release I had been fooled into thinking Blakemore had a different approach here, but in effect, it’s the same ‘witch finder / witch trial’ story that’s been fictionalised many times.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Nadishka Aloysius

    I am familiar with the Salem witch trials and Arthur Miller's Crucible. However this is the first time I came across the witch hunts in England during the Civil War. I loved the opening chapter which was really well written and drew us in with a no holds barred attitude into the lives of the poverty stricken, dysfunctional West household. It laid a great groundwork for the novel and sowed the seeds of doubt early on. Is Beldam West really a witch? Her daughter certainly seems to imply so. The im I am familiar with the Salem witch trials and Arthur Miller's Crucible. However this is the first time I came across the witch hunts in England during the Civil War. I loved the opening chapter which was really well written and drew us in with a no holds barred attitude into the lives of the poverty stricken, dysfunctional West household. It laid a great groundwork for the novel and sowed the seeds of doubt early on. Is Beldam West really a witch? Her daughter certainly seems to imply so. The implication of witchcraft is also present in the sickness of the Briggs child which is left unexplained. This is a feminist novel in that it lays bare the harsh truths of the patriarchal views that drove witch hunts. However, the point of view kept switching between Rebecca (written in the first person) and the rest of the characters (written in the third person) which was rather disorienting. Also, knowing the general thrust of the tale, the reader knows how it is going to end... I would have liked a twist at the end, but I guess the author wanted to be as faithful to fact as possible?

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