Tuesday, October 31, 2023

REVIEW: The Witchfinder's Serpent by Rande Goodwin

The Witchfinder's Serpent
My Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

After the death of their father, Nate and his younger brother Marc leave New York City to live with their mysterious aunt in Windsor, CT. Her one rule: under no circumstances are they to enter the locked room on the second floor. Of course, teens being teens, their curiosity gets the better of them and they eventually explore the room, uncovering some pretty creepy stuff, including a serpent bracelet cuff that's magically attached itself to Nate's wrist and refuses to be dislodged. But what else they've unleashed is even creepier, the stuff of nightmares!

The Witchfinder's Serpent is a modern-day young adult fantasy inspired by true historical events. The story spans multiple timelines—the present (2019) and the past (1647), during the time of the earliest Puritan settlers in New England and America's first Witch hanging. I liked that the past timeline directly related to what was happening in the present day, and unlike other books' flashbacks, I did not find myself wishing for the chapter to end and return to the present day. The chapters in the past held my interest just as much, if not more so, than the present.

Being a New England-er myself (transplanted to California 13 years ago), I am intimately familiar with the Salem Witch Trials. I also identify as a Witch, drawing energy and practicing magick with the usual Witches tools. So I related well to this book, and even appreciated how the author spelled "magick" with a K, just as modern Witches do, to distinguish it from stage and illusionist magic.

The book started off a bit slowly, allowing time to develop characters and set the scene, but quickly picked up about 20% in when the story got really intriguing. The writing style was not as elegant as some of the more established writers I've read. I would've liked to have seen less "telling" and more "showing" in several places, but such is the hallmark of a new writer, and honestly after the story picked up, I barely noticed it as much. Some parts of the story were also a bit simplistic and quickly explained away... . But seeing as it's young adult, I suspect the author didn't want to get too bogged down in details that could detract his target audience.

Despite those minor criticisms, the story itself was entertaining and captivating, and definitely hard to put down. I found the author to be very respectful towards his subject, conveying the horror of past times when Puritans unjustly accused and prosecuted anyone perceived as different or sensitive. I also appreciated the way Aunt Celia explained the significance of the pentacle and the beliefs of modern-day witches to her two young wards in a light-hearted but factual way—providing young adult readers with an objective basis for the modern Witchcraft movement. While the story wrapped up nicely, it clearly alluded to much more to come! I'll be looking forward to the sequel.

Thank you to NetGalley and Greenleaf Books for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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