‘The Manningtree Witches’ review: Exploring the past to educate the present

Sarah Ben Tkhayet
  • The novel uses elements of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ and ‘The Scarlet Letter’ to criticise social judgment and patriarchal values
  • This 17th century tale of witch hunts shows how women were mistreated by powerful men
Sarah Ben Tkhayet |

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"The Manningtree Witches" by A. K. Blakemore, is a cross between dystopian fiction and the cautionary tale of "The Scarlet Letter".

The Manningtree Witches
by A. K. Blakemore
Published by Catapult
ISBN: 978-1646220649

“How often does the Devil put a curse in your head? When I stop to take account of my thoughts, I sometimes find that I am full up with cruelty, ungodliness, with the wish to wrong those by whom I have been wronged.”

Surprising, amusing, thought-provoking, ominous. These words could be used to describe A. K. Blakemore’s first novel, The Manningtree Witches.

The third instalment in the Cogheart series is perfect for thrill-seekers

This fictional tale of sorcery follows the mysterious happenings in Manningtree, a village in England. A series of paranormal events take place after one of the children there develops a fever and starts uttering some strange words.

Then a mysterious man arrives and begins his search for the witch – the origin of the curse – accusing the village’s women of being evil.

Chronicling life in a 17th century puritanical village, the novel explores different facets of religion and the power it holds to mould a community. Through certain chapters dedicated to the powerful portrayal of individuals in the village, Blakemore successfully highlights her characters’ experiences.

A fight for survival in chaotic Dark Ages Britain

The story is set in 1643, a time of conflict between the Roundheads (a group who supported parliament) and the Cavaliers (the king’s supporters). Instead of detailing the lives of the most influential royals or describing in great detail the brave soldiers fighting in the English Civil War, Blakemore chooses to hold a magnifying glass over a small, fictional village. In the process, she transcribes the inner workings of a witch-bashing community.

Rebecca West, the main character, challenges ideas she deems archaic while going through coming-of-age experiences during these tumultuous times. Her dysfunctional relationship with her mother, blossoming romantic feelings and the pressure of a judgmental society don’t make things any easier.

Her teenage temperament and daring language adds momentum to the plot.

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Despite being set in the 17th century, The Manningtree Witches is intimately connected to our present and the future.

By shedding light on the barbaric mechanisms behind the rise of witch hunts in old England, the author reveals a woman’s role in society and how they were mistreated by powerful men.

A cross between the dystopian novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, and the puritanical, cautionary tale, The Scarlet Letter, Blakemore’s debut novel denounces patriarchal ideas and social judgment of women in groundbreaking ways.

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