This book captured my interest with the fascinating concept of a book writing another book. You see, The Last Witchfinder wasn’t really written by James Morrow, but by Sir Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica. Not only could books write books, they could make war on books as well. The Principia itself is still fighting a long running conflict with Malleus Malificium, the pope-sponsored guide to detecting witches. And, we learn, books have feelings, they can fall in love, for, the Principia felt such an emotion for our heroine, Jennet Stearne.
Jennet’s father, Walter, is a Witchfinder with grand ambitions toward official royal appointments, and income. Whilst Walter and his son, Jenny’s younger brother, Dunstan, travel across East Anglia and Mercia, cleansing the area of witches, Jenny is left with her aunt, Isobel, Lady Mowbray. Isobel is a natural philosopher, tutoring Jenny and the vicar’s daughter in the new Reason of the Enlightenment. Wholly believing in her brother-in-law’s cause, Isobel decides to “anatomize” any animal familiars Walter can bring her, believing she’ll find internal evidence of their corruption by the Devil.
Upon finding out what she was doing, the vicar withdraws his daughter from the school, and accuses Isobel of witchcraft. Upon testing her, Walter decides his sister-in-law is, indeed, a witch, and that, instead of hanging, she should be burned at the stake. As the fire was lit, Isobel tells Jenny, that to disprove the existence of witches, and evil spirits, she should look at Aristotelian immutables and Newtons’ Principia, thus forming an “argumentum grande“.
And thus, does Jenny spend the rest of her life, battling her father and brother, and seeking to disprove witchery, all while being captured by Indians, shipwrecked, taken by pirates, and having an affair with Ben Franklin.
A truly amazing book, The Last Witchfinder, is one that I highly recommend.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars