Thursday, September 7, 2017

Book Review: The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

"The Essex Serpent" by Sarah Perry
First published 2017
418 pages
My rating: 4 out of 5

The Short Of It:

A lovely historical fiction novel that started out strong but fell a bit flat for me in the latter half.

The Long Of It:
"The Essex Serpent" is a quiet story set in the late 1800s about an English village terrified by a sea serpent, the contrariety of reason and religion, and an unlikely friendship between a vicar and a very unusual woman.

After the death of her abusive husband, Cora Seaborne is happier than she's been in years. She's free to wear men's clothes, travel where she wishes and pursue her naturalist instincts. Her search for fossils takes her to the Essex shore where rumors of an evil serpent have wracked the hamlet of Aldwinter, and there she befriends William Ransome, the local vicar. Though the two disagree on much, they instantly form a near seamless meeting of the minds.

Meanwhile, a surgeon ahead of his time is in love with Cora, his best friend is in love with Cora's companion, Cora's odd son Francis gets even odder, and eerie things are happening in Aldwinter -- blamed, course, on the serpent.

The first part of the novel completely sucked me in -- I enjoyed the gorgeous prose, the unique cast of characters, and the letters sent between them scattered throughout (I do so love epistolary novels, and this one had just the right of good old fashioned snail mail tucked between chapters). And I was fascinated by the idea of the malevolent Essex serpent that had Aldwinter and the surrounding towns all in a tizzy -- something that could easily have happened a century and a quarter ago.

But there really wasn't very much action -- it turned out to be a much more character-driven novel than I expected, and eventually it started to feel a little boring. And, too, some of the characters I really liked ended up doing things that disappointed me.

Overall, I enjoyed it, and I'd say it's worth a read, but don't expect an action-packed romp. This is a more subtle, atmospheric story, so save it for a time when you can sit down and savor it.

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