The Guardian's Best Fiction of the Year
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. The present moment is a continuation of the past. We are here because we were there. We are still there." —Hannah Lamb-Vines, Full Stop
"While this is a historical novel of sorts, it ultimately feels very modern and can be seen as a reflection of the misogyny in the 21st Century. Blakemore is brilliant and Manningtree [Witches] is just the tip of the iceberg." —Adam Vitcavage, Debutiful
"If you too like to be excited (and disturbed, and amused) by your sentences, I suggest you pick up this tensile first novel by poet A.K. Blakemore . . . I’m shivering just thinking about it, but never have I been so glad to be so upset!" —Emily Temple, Literary Hub
"[Blakemore's] poetic imagery exquisitely conjures ambiance, character, and period detail . . . The well-realized principal characters are more than simply victims and villains." —Booklist
"In Blakemore’s debut novel, her background as a poet is clear. The language is striking, full of distinctive insights regarding gender, truth, and religious devotion . . . Historical fiction has rarely felt so immediate." —Kirkus Reviews
"Inventive, sharp-witted . . . The author is a devastatingly good prose stylist . . . Blakemore’s ambitious and fresh take on the era will delight readers." —Publishers Weekly
"Blakemore writes with a sure sense of story and the heightened language of the poet she is." —Library Journal
"A.K. Blakemore's debut is a riveting, unsettling story of menace, corruption, and muck, rendered in limber, evocative prose that delights and surprises at every turn. Its heroine wants too much, and too often, and the wrong thingwhich is quite a bit more dangerous than usual, considering this is 17th century England and the Witchfinder General has just come to town. Based on actual events, but told in a deliciously brazen voice, this novel reads like Fleabag meets Hilary Mantel: bawdy, bewitching, weird, and wise. I loved every minute, and even when I was horrified, I didn't want to look away." Emily Temple, author of The Lightness
"I loved this riveting, appalling, addictive debut. In The Manningtree Witches, Blakemore captures the shame of poverty and social neglect unforgettably, and the alluring threat of women left alone together, in a novel which vividly immerses the reader in the world of those who history has tried to render mute." Megan Nolan, author of Acts of Desperation
"Dark, original, unsettling, and crackling with fierce and visceral life, The Manningtree Witches heralds the birth of an utterly vital new voice in fiction. A.K. Blakemore makes the past breathe, and allows it, with dazzling candour, to speak hotly to the complicated reality of our own moment." Rebecca Tamás, author of WITCH
The inventive, sharp-witted debut from poet Blakemore (Humbert Summer) draws on the Puritan witch trials of Civil War England, when several women were executed for witchcraft in 1645 Manningtree. The book opens with 19-year-old Rebecca West’s tour-de-force description of her heavily snoring mother, the vulgar but undeniably formidable Beldam (a name, Rebecca notes, that “suits her, because it sounds wide and wicked”). Claustrophobic Manningtree is abuzz with the arrival of Matthew Hopkins, a mysterious, moneyed gentleman from Suffolk who later becomes the self-styled “Witchfinder General.” In lust with clerk John Edes, Rebecca barely notices Hopkins, but then a local boy becomes inexplicably ill, and the cause is determined to be “bewitchment,” with Rebecca’s mother fingered as a guilty party. The collective obsession with Satan begins to manifest in strange ways for Rebecca, permeating her dreams and waking life with explicitly sexual imagery as things progress with John and she herself comes under suspicion of witchcraft. While Blakemore’s commitment to historical verisimilitude may have kept this from reaching greater imaginative heights (chapters are prefaced by excerpts from the primary source documents to which they correspond), the author is a devastatingly good prose stylist. On the whole, Blakemore’s ambitious and fresh take on the era will delight readers. (Aug.)
A young woman and her mother become targets of the witch hunts of 17th-century England.
Rebecca West and her mother are working to make ends meet as seamstresses in poverty-stricken Manningtree, England, a village filled with women who gossip, bicker, and attempt to care for their families as the men are away fighting in the country’s numerous wars. Rebecca is quietly in love with the town clerk, John Edes, whom she meets with regularly to study Scripture and learn to read. But once Matthew Hopkins, a man who comes to be known as the Witchfinder, arrives, suspicion brews between neighbors, especially when a child is taken ill and Hopkins suspects witches are consorting with the devil. Rebecca, her mother, and numerous other village women are arrested and jailed for more than a year before their trial, as Hopkins works to shore up witnesses, including John Edes. In Blakemore’s debut novel, her background as a poet is clear. The language is striking, full of distinctive insights regarding gender, truth, and religious devotion even as the narrative perspective shifts from Rebecca to Hopkins to varying townspeople. Rebecca’s voice as she narrates the fates of the women on trial for witchcraft is unapologetic and luminous, and her mother’s defiance and love for her daughter are fierce; as she tells Rebecca, “Witch is just their nasty word for anyone who makes things happen, who moves the story along.” The sections in which Hopkins contemplates his manipulative investigations are duller and slow the plot’s momentum, especially toward the end. Still, historical fiction has rarely felt so immediate.
An immersive story with striking prose.