The Leviathan by Rosie Andrews review – a potent brew of civil war and witch trials

Mystery and fantasy weave a tangled web in this richly atmospheric debut novel set in turbulent 17th-century Norfolk

Witch trials, with their heady mix of religious fervour, misogyny and repressed desire, have held an enduring fascination for fiction writers. Rosie Andrews’s enormously enjoyable debut, The Leviathan, takes this familiar setup and makes of it something strange and original: part horror story, part fantasy, part historical mystery.

The body of the story takes place in 1643, at the onset of the English civil war. The narrator, Thomas Treadwater, a young man enlisted to fight for the parliamentary forces in order to redeem himself from an indiscretion with his tutor’s niece, returns for Christmas to his family farm in Norfolk with a sense of foreboding; his 16-year-old sister, Esther, has written to him of “a great ungodly evil” that has entered the house in the form of a new servant, Chrissa Moore. Tom arrives to find all their livestock dead, his father incapacitated by a stroke and Chrissa arrested for witchcraft. In order to delay her trial, she has claimed to be pregnant with his father’s child.

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