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The Last Witchfinder [Hardcover]

James Morrow
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)

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Book Description

6 April 2006
Jennet is the daughter of the Witchfinder of Mercia and East Anglia. Whilst her father roams the countryside with her brother Dunstan in search of heretics, Jennet is left behind to be schooled by her aunt Isobel in the New Philosophy principally expounded by Isaac Newton. But her aunt's style of scientific enquiry soon attracts the attention of the witchfinders. To save her aunt, Jennet travels to Cambridge to seek the help of Newton himself. On the way she meets Dr Barnaby Cavendish and his 'Museum of Wondrous Prodigies' including the Bird-Child of Bath, The Lyme Bay Fish Boy and the Sussex Rat Baby. What they haven't bargained on is being hoodwinked by Newton's great rival Robert Hooke. Isobel is burned at the stake but in her dying moments, begs Jennet to devote her life to overturning the Parliamentary Witchcraft Act. This is a huge rollercoaster of a novel as Jennet travels to America and witnesses the Salem witch trials; is abducted by Indians; begins an affair with Benjamin Franklin; travels back to England and finally meets the real Newton; is shipwrecked; then ends up back in America where her brother is now the Witchfinder Royal. In a great final showdown between old superstition and new science, Jennet decides to have herself accused of witchcraft in order to disprove its existence.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson; First Edition edition (6 April 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0297852582
  • ISBN-13: 978-0297852582
  • Product Dimensions: 4.3 x 16.2 x 24.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,152,003 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


'an absolute delight...Seldom does one come across a story that works on so many levels. Not only does it satisfy by being a highly entertaining yarn detailing the picaresque, pillar-to-post adventures of its admirable and highly likeable protagonist, Jennet Stearne, it stands too as a sharply observed post-modernist satire that focuses upon the age-old tensions that both bind and divide us - religion and science... a hugely affable work, and a great pleasure to read.' (John Berlyne SFREVU )

'the sheer exuberance of the plot and the determination of the protagonist to reach her goal carries the reader along. A thoroughly entertaining novel.' (WATERSTONE'S BOOKS QUARTERLY )

'..the genius of this that is perfectly captures the prismatic situations of science and theology in the 18th century...Part of the delight of this novel is the richness of the language, the carefully balanced coyness and coquetry of 18th century literarture, and the way in which the Principia Mathematica writes all the world in Newtonian geometry.' (Farah Mendlesohn STRANGE HORIZONS )

'The Last Witchfinder is cleverly written, with the detail of history providing a rich tapestry into which the fiction is woven, bringing events and chartacters both real and imagined to vivid life...Morrow has written a timely intervention into the dangersof Fundamentalism for the zeitgeist.' (Brigid Cherry DREAMWATCH (May 2006) )

'An intense and dramatic novel set in one of the darkest periods of our country's history.' (GOOD BOOK GUIDE )

'James Morrow writes in order to tell us things: to admonish us about our coming destruction of the world, or about the battle between reason and superstition...what he is, deep down, is a satirist and moralist...What makes this satirical version of the struggle against fundamentalism so powerful is Morrow's scenes of natural beauty or urban squalor. These have the scent of real wild flowers, the squish of real mud and dung underfoot.' (Roz Kaveney INDEPENDENT (11.5.06) )

'Romp is too small a word for this novel, although the fin and excitement James Morrow delivers inevitably brings it to mind.' (Alastair Mabbott THE HERALD (13.5.06) )

'a dazzling novel about the clash between superstition and science...This is an extravagant, expansive, erudite, energetic feast of information and adventure...I felt bound to read on as if tied to a stake myself.' (Jessica Mann SUNDAY TELEGRAPH (14.5.06) )

'[a] tremendous historical novel...In a book that will appeal to fans of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, James Morrow captures the imagination and excitement of a world long gone.' (NEWMARKET JOURNAL and SUFFOLK FREE PRESS )

'Inventive, original and downright entertaining with some fantastic fantasy twists, The Last Witchfinder is a book that really does take genre writing in a completely new and highly entertaining direction.' (James Whittington THE DARK SIDE )

'The Last Witchfinder is a magnificent combination of high entertainment and intellectually demanding story telling. The life and travails of Jennet prove to be compelling; the tale fair gallops along and is packed with incident as well as engaging and intriguing characters. It is a tremendously satisfying read which offers much to be considered long after the book is finished.' (Dave M Roberts VECTOR MAGAZINE )

Book Description

A great historical novel following the picaresque adventures of Jennet, daughter of the last Witchfinder of Mercia and East Anglia. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A fine read....but not without its problems. 13 Jun 2007
This book is a very enjoyable read, though not always an easy one. Morrow has taken the battle between Renaissance and Enlightenment, between superstition and reason and located it in a time when witchfinders were stll scouring the English countryside and when unspeakble things were being done to unfortunate women in Salem, Massachusetts. If this sounds a touch dry then don't isn't. This is a picaresque novel full of larger than life characters, the best of whom are the doomed Isobel Mowbray, the exuberant Barnaby Cavendish and the fantastic heroine Jennet Stearne.

Jennet's mission is to see the overturning of the Witchcraft Statute by Parliament and it is this ultimate aim that unites the various episodes that make up the story. Some of these episodes are fantastically realised, especially the final trial scene which is genuinely tense. However, it has to be said that Jennet's time among the Indians is a trifle dull and her shipwreck on the Caribbean Island isn't nearly as exciting as it sounds. This is the problem with the book. Morrow has written a very ambitious novel and, although some things work brilliantly others just don't. The idea of casting the narrator of the novel as a book, Newton's Principia Mathematica, is original but ultimately doesn't work. Although it succeeds in creating a viewpoint located outside the time frame of the story, it becomes a distraction. Morrow has obviously done a lot of research into the intellectual and scientific theories of the period and, while at times these are stimulating and colourful, at other times they detract from the storytelling.

To sum up this is an entertaining and enjoyable read and it is worth sticking with. An ambitious, exciting, frustrating and flawed novel.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The very long witchfinder 22 Jun 2012
In early 18th century England, a time when scientific and philosophical discoveries are beginning to change the way the world thinks, 11 year old Jennet Stearne is being raised - daughter of Walter Stearne, Witchfinder-General, and educated by her aunt Isabel. Jennet is an intelligent girl, but doesn't quite grasp the discrepancy between her father's profession and her aunt's lessons in philosophy and physics, until the day Walter's job leads him to his own sister-in-law who suddenly stands accused of witchcraft, for her scientific studies. Using all the techniques which have always stood him in good stead - the devil's mark blemishes, the rejection of the water when thrown into the river - then trial by jury, Walter finds he has greater allegiance to his principles as witchfinder than to the woman who has helped him raise his own children, and Isabel is burned at the stake.

The story follows the rest of Jennet's unexpectedly 'colourful' life, through Salem witch trials, kidnap by Indians, and romance with Benjamin Franklin. She is horrified by her father's actions, but despite dedicating her life to creating what she believes to be an irrefutable argument against demons and witchcraft, she decides that the only way she can prove her case once and for all is to stand trial accused of witchcraft herself. It's then a question of whether she will suffer the same fate as her aunt Isabel, or if logic, reason and science can save the day...

Very funny in places, and interesting, too; but the second half dragged a bit and I did get a little fed up of the constant adventuring. I think this would have been a much better story with some brutal editing throughout, but it's a good entertainment, nonetheless.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars It could have been great 26 Jun 2006
This book is a behemoth, a veritable tour de force of the age he is portraying and that (I believe) is the books greatest strength and greatest weakness.

The Last Witchfinder is very difficult to classify or sum up in a sentence as it spans such a wide and varied time in both the settings that uses and the characters that are described, however I will do my best to do just that. The story centres on Jennet Sterne, a gifted and arguable petulant child whom is the daughter of Walter Sterne, the Witchfinder of Mercia and East Anglia, and sister to Dunstan, air apparent to Walter's title. As Dunstan is often away with his father learning the family trade Jennet is left with her Aunt Isobel, a scholar who opens Jennet's mind to the many wonders of the world. However, in this turbulent time a woman studying science and who lives alone with very quickly attract very unwelcome attention of Mr Sterne senior...

This is how the book begins, however in terms of describing the setting of the book I am doing it scant justice as the story takes us to Philadelphia, an Indian village, a desert island, to passionate embraces with her suitors and onwards to the challenge of parenthood. All of these settings are well described and the supporting cast are well defined but this is where I feel there is a weakness. Due to the volume of major characters and major settings you feel that the book is trying to cram in just too much for its 500 odd pages and on top of this I feel the timing / pacing of the book is also askew, for example there are many instances when you will be reading a passage to have it finish with (or the next passage begin with) and 4 years later, or Ben and Jennet went through 3 summers like this... This to me is a slightly lazy way around the narrative.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars wow
so funny and so interesting. an unbelievable plot intertwined with interesting historical and philosophical detail. Read more
Published 2 months ago by tj57
3.0 out of 5 stars Good and thought provoking, but tedious at times
This book is less about witch finding and more about science and maths. I enjoyed the parts which included historical facts about witch hunting in both England and the New World,... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Enielle
5.0 out of 5 stars Brows so high, they hit the roof!
High brow lit, this one, and you have to be suitably erudite to know what erudite means, and be in the mood for it. This is no summer beach read. Read more
Published on 27 May 2011 by FantasyWriter
5.0 out of 5 stars The Lat Witchfinder by James Morrow
I found this book fascinating and a little strange at the same time! The writing style gets a bit of getting used to but once you get into the book its great! Read more
Published on 30 Sep 2010 by P. A. Cunningham
2.0 out of 5 stars Unbelieveable and tedious
I have numerous issues with this book. The storyline is unbelieveable, repetetive and static. The characters are unsympathetic, including the heroine who seems callous and... Read more
Published on 29 Sep 2010 by Katie Stevens
4.0 out of 5 stars A historical epic - both humourous and tragic.
This is a good historical romp based around the Salem Witch trials. It manages to be humourous whilst also depicting the tragedy and insanity of mass hysteria. Read more
Published on 10 Oct 2009 by Ruth Boaz
1.0 out of 5 stars the last witchfinder
very difficult to get in to. didn't understand the need for the author to pose as a book!!! it did inspire me to find out more about the salem witch trials, which i found more... Read more
Published on 4 Jun 2007 by Am Sharpe
5.0 out of 5 stars A Dazzling Novel
James Morrow was born in 1947. He has lectured and taught and worked in the fields of magazine publishing and television, as well as writing for children. Read more
Published on 9 April 2007 by J. Chippindale
5.0 out of 5 stars A Dazzling Novel
James Morrow was born in 1947. He has lectured and taught and worked in the fields of magazine publishing and television, as well as writing for children. Read more
Published on 15 Mar 2007 by J. Chippindale
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought-provoking and enjoyable
What a fine novel this is! The protagonist Jennet Stearne is a spirited but simultaneously very likeable lady if ever there was one, and with a grim determination she keeps on... Read more
Published on 9 Jan 2007 by Didier
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