James Morrow is the author of nine previous novels, including The Last Witchfinder. He lives in State College, Pennsylvania.
Adult/High School-England in the late 17th century is an exciting-if dangerous-home for Jennet Stearne, a teen whose family is a microcosm of the country's philosophical and religious conflicts. Though she is enthralled by Isaac Newton's theories and her progressive Aunt Isobel's scientific experiments, she also takes pride in her father, Walter, who is a highly regarded professional witch-hunter. Jennet's filial piety and belief system are overturned abruptly when blameless Isobel is burned at the stake because Walter labels her a witch. The girl vows to prevent other unjust executions by using science to prove witchcraft nonexistent. Her stubborn quest goes on for decades, leading her into wild adventures that include being captured by pirates, becoming an adoptive Native American, witnessing the Salem witch craze, and carrying on an affair with the young Ben Franklin. Jennet and her companions dash through an energetic narrative that re-creates the period believably, thanks to the author's admirable linguistic and historical research. While the protagonist is an appealing character, the real star is Newton's Principia Mathematica, whose amusing commentary provides a new twist to notions about the power and endurance of the printed word. This is a clever literary fantasy costumed as a traditional historical novel and a treat for fiction lovers.-Starr E. Smith, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Nine years in the making, Morrow's richly detailed, cerebral tale of rationality versus superstitious bigotry is set in late-17th-century London and colonial New England, a time when everyday actions were judged according to the rigid Parliamentary Witchcraft Act and suspect women were persecuted for alleged acts of sorcery. Inquisitive, "kinetic" Jennet Stearne, daughter of militant Witchfinder Gen. Walter Stearne, witnesses this pursuit of "Satanists" up close when her beloved maternal Aunt Isobel Mowbray, a philosopher and scientist, is put on trial and burned at the stake for her progressive ideas. Thirteen-year-old Jennet and her younger brother, Dunstan, immigrate with their now-infamous father to Massachusetts, where Walter (disgraced in England for executing his propertied sister-in-law) puts his "witchfinding" expertise into savage overdrive at the Salem witch trials. Abducted in a raid, Jennet spends seven years captive to the Algonquin Nimacook, until she's freed by and married to Boston postmaster Tobias Crompton. Years later, after a divorce (!), she becomes smitten (and enlightened) by a young Benjamin Franklin. For a metafictional touch to this intrepid, impeccably researched epic (after Blameless in Abaddon), Newton's Principia Mathematica speaks intermittently, its jaunty historical and critical commentary knitted cleverly into the narrative. This tour-de-force of early America bears a buoyant humor to lighten its macabre load. (Mar.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
The protagonist of Morrow's (The Eternal Footman) latest novel is a self-confident young woman named Jennet Stearne, whose father is a witchfinder in late 17th-century England; upon his death, her brother picks up their father's mantle to scourge Satan in Salem, MA. When Jennet's bluestocking aunt, Isobel, is burned at the stake for witchcraft, Jennet determines that her one goal in life will be to bring down the Parliamentary Witchcraft Act of 1604. She moves to the Colonies, where, after many adventures, she takes a young Ben Franklin as lover. She fakes being a witch to gain a forum for her Newtonian views on the absurdity of witchcraft; her brother prosecutes her, and the Baron de Montesquieu, one of the greatest political philosophers of the era, defends her at her trial. Picaresque heroes typically rattle through history, reacting to rather than shaping the near-fantastic mishaps that befall them, but not Jennet! Jennet is a magnet for continual controversy but is determined to win through and does. She is an attractive heroine in an exceptionally engaging and piquantly thoughtful novel. Though similar to John Barth's The Sot-Weed Factor in many respects, Witchfinder is warmer and more human. Strongly recommended.-David Keymer, Modesto, CA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
"[An] intrepid, impeccably researched epic . . . [a] tour-de-force of early America."--Publishers Weekly (starred review)