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What’s it about?

Set in 1893, a recently widowed Cora Seaborne leaves London for Essex in the search of fresh air and fossils.

In the parish of Aldwinter, people fear the murderous Essex Serpent has returned to the Blackwater, much to the annoyance of their vicar, William Ransome.

Through mutual friends, Cora and William are introduced, and though different in their beliefs, strike up a close relationship. It is this relationship and the lives and loves of those around it which makes this book so intriguing.

My thoughts

It was a slow-burner, with a very subtle plot, and I found the title and the notion of the mystery of the Essex Serpent quite misleading; this is not a typical mystery novel. Though tipped as a Victorian Gothic, I thought the gothic elements were lacking.

Having said all that, I really enjoyed it! I read it in just a few weeks (and that’s quick for me, considering the size of it). The setting, premise, and characters were unusual enough to carry it along, once I realised it wasn’t a typical mystery. There is no denying that Perry writes beautifully; the landscape, the people, the wildlife were all evoked with such wonderful, quirky observations that it drew me deeply into the novel and made it so that I wanted to know what would happen next. It is also abundantly clear that she knows her Victorian history, and if you love the wider cultural aspect to Victorian novels, this is definitely for you.

Rather than a gothic mystery, it seemed to me more like a piece of historical literary fiction which speculates about the different forms of love and life on our earth.

Beautiful quotes:

"Since the discovery on New Year's morning of a drowned man down on the Blackwater marshes - naked, his head turned almost 180 degrees, a look of dread in his wide-open eyes - the Essex Serpent had ceased to be merely a device to keep children in check, and had begun to stalk the streets."

"Autumn's kind to Aldwinter: thick sun aslant on the common forgives a multitude of sins. The dog-roses have gone over to crimson hips, and children stain their hands green breaking walnuts open. Skeins of geese unravel over the estuary, and cobwebs dress the gorse in silk."

Who would I recommend it to?

Those who enjoy character driven novels. Those with a keen interest in the late Victorian period. Those who want to escape into a beautiful, nineteenth century Essex landscape.

About the author

From her website:

In January 2013 she was Writer-in-Residence at Gladstone's Library. Here she completed the final draft of her first novel, After Me Comes the Flood, which was published by Serpent's Tail in June 2014 to international critical acclaim. It won the East Anglian Book of the Year Award 2014, and was longlisted for the 2014 Guardian First Book Award and nominated for the 2014 Folio Prize. In January and February 2016 Sarah was the UNESCO City of Literature Writer-in-Residence in Prague.

Her second novel, The Essex Serpent, was published by Serpent's Tail in May 2016. It was a number one bestseller in hardback, and was named Waterstones Book of the Year 2016

She has since published her third novel, Melmoth. 

Find out more about her and her work by visiting her website.

And click here to go straight to the book page. 


About the author

Delphine Woods

Delphine Woods

Delphine Woods is an author who loves to write historical mysteries and thrillers. 

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