The Manningtree Witches - book cover
Literature & Fiction
  • Publisher : Catapult
  • Published : 10 Aug 2021
  • Pages : 320
  • ISBN-10 : 1646220641
  • ISBN-13 : 9781646220649
  • Language : English

The Manningtree Witches

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, who identifies himself as the Witchfinder General, arrives. A mysterious, pious figure dressed from head to toe in black, Matthew Hopkins 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.

Editorial Reviews

A Literary Hub Most Anticipated Book of the Year

"This is an intimate portrait of a clever if unworldly heroine who slides from amused observation of the 'moribund carnival atmosphere' in the household of a 'possessed' child to nervous uncertainty about the part in the proceedings played by her adored tutor to utter despair as a wagon carts her off to prison." -Alida Becker, The New York Times Book Review

"Blakemore brings both beautifully crafted sentences and a thorough understanding of Hopkins' theology to her fascinating novel . . . It's clear that the author is deeply conversant in the historiography of English witchcraft as popularized by historians such as Keith Thomas and Lyndal Roper. Her characters plumb the taxonomy of the persecuted with precision . . . Brilliant." -Los Angeles Times

"The Manningtree Witches ventures into dark places, to be sure, but it carries a jewelled dagger. Blakemore is a poet, and readers given to underlining may find their pencils worn down to stubs . . . Such sharp wit and rich textures would be welcome in any setting, but here they form what seems a fitting tribute. The persecutors in this tale are given close scrutiny, but the book belongs to the persecuted. And on these pages, in all their ordinary glory, those women are at last allowed to live." ––Paraic O'Donnell, The Guardian

"In A.K. Blakemore's dark, entrancing debut novel, there is something seductive about the small town of Manningtree, where women are left mostly alone as the men are off at war, and have their first tastes of freedom in their staunchly Puritanical society . . . Blakemore's story is inspired by real events from 400 years ago (primary sources are sprinkled throughout), but the narrative feels vivid, current, propulsive-and all the more viscerally deranging for it." -Kristin Iversen, Refinery29

"Blakemore expertly wields the colorful language of Oliver Cromwell's time: her barbs are as sharp and her observations as salty as William Shakespeare's-but with a feminist twist . . . Blakemore has written a spellbinding novel about the unprecedented persecution of women during the 'Witch Craze' in 17th-century England. But she has done more than that . . . [she] has given voice to women whose stories have only been told by others and thus provides a very different view of history than what is written in the official narrative." -Elaine Elinson, The Los Angeles Review of Books

"Blakemore's novel, as Rebecca Tamás puts it, 'makes the past breathe,' with a captivating ferocity of language, deftly wrought characters, and richly spooky images that tell a story I couldn't put down despite the dreaded ending I knew I was in for. But the past breathes whether Blakemore brings it to life or not...

Readers Top Reviews

Foxglove Summerkeith
I gave up after 60 odd pages. The choice of font didn't help as it was very hard to read, but the main reason was that I was beyond bored, and had got to the point where I was "trying" to read it. That's when you have to give up.
John DMr. A. Q. Kopp
A K Blakemore is a young female poet, and this book underlines her obvious skill with words. Every page shines with at least one beautiful, well-crafted line. Some are hauntingly memorable Unfortunately, that’s where the positives end. There is zero plot. None. Not even a misty spectre of a story. It is a procession of episodes, listlessly linked. Characterisation is weak. My God, this is Matthew Hopkins, Witchfinder General! - yet he comes across as an insipid vicar with a mild taste for light detective work The point-of-view shifts in a bewildering way. Perspectives are mystifying. Young Suffolk women possess vocabularies far beyond likelihood. “Pullulating”. Really? It ends with a trite little Woke-sermon on how the English “exported” the witch craze all around the world, presuming that other cultures are pitifully incapable of burning witches all by themselves. A K Blakemore is talented. She will surely write better novels than this. She needs to
The Manningtree Witches is historical fiction, but boy oh boy did I learn a lot. Matthew Hopkins was the jerk Witchfinder General in real life, the Manningtree Witch Trial really happened and the unfortunate women were really hanged. Ms. Blakemore puts it all together in a way where we really care about these people. Well, maybe not Hopkins who really was a jerk. Blakemore has an epilogue that explains the real history behind the story. With the hangings, she doesn't spare us. They didn't know back then how to snap a neck quickly, so the many hundreds, if not thousands, of people (mainly women) died slow, painful deaths of suffocation. I've seen too many historical fictions that get this wrong, but not Blakemore. But, she did get the word wrong. People are hanged, not hung. Speaking of words, I learned a lot of new words. A few weren't even in the dictionary, at least not on the kindle dictionary. There's lot of looking up to be done while reading this. This is how we learn stuff, right? Here's my favorite new word. Pay close attention. The protagonist's mother was called The Beldam. The Beldam West. Beldam is French for "beautiful dame" or "beautiful woman." It was used ironically, though, to mean an old ugly woman. I really like that word. The Beldam. So, I've decided to call myself The Beldam. I, personally, hope it means "beautiful dame" but if you want to use it to mean ugly old woman, I don't want to know about it. At first, I thought the story was a little slow, although the protagonist has a sly sense of humor. Once the action got going, it really got going. Exciting and horrifying. Poor Vinegar Tom! Beautiful language, too. Picture a book that is both literary and scary. Thanks to Publishers Weekly "Grab-a-galley" and Netgalley for allowing me a digital ARC in return for an honest review.
"There is one long, narrow road that runs alongside the riverbank, from the little port of old St. Mary's Church in Mistley...". People living a marginal existence occupy "a few dozen 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 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 accus...
M. L. Gilchrist
This writer is brilliant in the poetic way she sketches the town, the people and their inner hearts. I do suggest you read this novel. Good enough to get me to actually write a review.

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