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The Last Witchfinder

3.53  ·  Rating details ·  1,311 Ratings  ·  223 Reviews

Jennet Stearne's father hangs witches for a living in Restoration England. But when she witnesses the unjust and horrifying execution of her beloved aunt Isobel, the precocious child decides to make it her life's mission to bring down the Parliamentary Witchcraft Act. Armed with little save the power of reason, and determined to see justice prevail, Jennet hurls herself i

Paperback, 526 pages
Published March 13th 2007 by Harper Perennial (first published May 1st 2005)
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Jennet Stearnes is a young woman ahead of her time. Although she's the daughter of a witchfinder in England, she is fortunate to have an Aunt Isobel Mowbray who is a "natural philosopher." She tutors Jennet in science, mathematics, and philosophy. She also provides young Jennet with her treatise, "A Woman's Garden of Pleasure and Pain," which will greatly enrich Jennet's life for many years. When Jennet's father unwisely puts a member of English gentry to the torch for witchcraft, Jennet, her fa ...more
Sep 26, 2007 rated it did not like it
Shelves: crap
i cannot believe so many people loved this book. this book is awful.

the dialogue is stilted (its so obvious that the author found a book about 17th century slang and then used those words as many times as possible...bleh) and the plot bends credulity past its breaking point several times over. While the names and dates might be historically accurate, the characters motivations and personalities are totally anachronistic, like when the minister scolds isobel for keeping servants(!). i should have
Jennifer (aka EM)
Oct 18, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone--especially those who like their social justice served up with a dash of humour & whimsy
Recommended to Jennifer (aka EM) by: Koeeoaddi
Shelves: hidden-gems
This one took what seemed like forever to read (but since it spans the onset of the Enlightenment through to today, that's perhaps to be expected). I dipped in here and there, reading a section--a chapter--an hourglass at a time (if you've read it, that will make sense). The black humour, the delightfully anachronistic voice, the historical characterizations...I found it all utterly charming and compelling and altogether unique.

It's tempting to draw comparisons to Vonnegut and Tom Robbins (Jitte
Mar 21, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: cannonball-read
If someone had told me that I would be reading a book in which the heroine is an Enlightenment natural philosopher, daughter and brother to witchfinders, witness to the Salem witch trials, a member of an Indian tribe, beloved of a young Ben Franklin, one of two people who knows the coordinates of an island on which escaped slaves debate the merits of government, and the personified end to witch hunting, I would have cocked an eyebrow. If that someone had then breathlessly explained that the book ...more
Sep 14, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: unfinished-limbo
i usually make it a habit to finish a book even if i don't like it...
i started reading this book last night and i'm already having trouble with it...not because i don't like it, it's actually really good and i'm really enjoying the premise...the story is being told from the point of view of isaac newton's 'principia mathematica'...a book writing a book...morrow goes on very intriguingly about how, in essence, all books are written by other books, so this is really not all that remarkable an achi
Mar 26, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviewed
It has been on very few occasions that I have read a novel that has the moral strength, the mental challenge and the entertainment value that this book held for me. I am in awe. While the story captivated me at every turn, Morrow kept me delighted with the witty observations put forth by the book's true author, the Principia Mathematica. While I was absorbed in the historical grounding of the setting, I was empathizing with and admiring Jennet.
I cannot think of a single thing that this book lack
What a stupid book! I don't like the word stupid but no other word comes close so I'm stuck with it. It's totally unbelievable, filled with historically uncorrect atitudes and behaviour. For some reason I wanted to know what happened to everyone. I also liked the idea of a book telling the story even though the book wars was an idea that should either have been abonded or have been explored differently. That's why I gave this book 2 stars, but really I wanted to give it one star. If you want to ...more
Jan 16, 2011 marked it as did-not-finish  ·  review of another edition
(Not even crap-tastic)
Just crap.

Couldn't finish this one.
Don't care what happens.
Don't care what I missed.

Waste of good paper.
Waste of my time.
Nov 21, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: re-read, hist-fic

Recommended by AuntiePam - also fan of author

Jennet Stearne, the main character of the novel, is a stubborn, inquisitive natural philosopher - not the most appropriate profession for a woman in the early 1700's. A loss early in her life makes her determined to disprove witchcraft with science in order to save lives.

Her adventures take her from England to America, from Native American bride to mistress of a future Founding Father, while matching wits with the likes of Sir Isaac Newton
Mar 18, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: literature
As posted in []:

*The Last Witchfinder* is one of the best historical fiction novels that I've read in recent years.

Jennet Stearne is furious because her father, the Witchfinder General Walter Sterne, had no choice to investigate the accusations that her aunt, Isobel Mowbray, educated and wise, is a witch. With plenty of witnesses, the Witchfinder has no choice but to burn her at the stake. This act has disgraced the Witchfinder and the Sterne family has no choice but to mov
Sep 09, 2007 rated it really liked it
Telling the story of Jennet Stearne is a scientific treatise written in Latin, Sir Isaac Newton's "Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica." As the story opens Jennet is studying science and philosophy with her beloved aunt. Her father is a noted witchfinder. Tragedy strikes when her aunt is accused of witchcraft and her father's zeal for his profession leads him to have her burned at the stake. Jennet spends the rest of her life trying to scientifically prove that demons do not exist in th ...more
Jenny Maloney
Feb 08, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: have-read
This was, no argument, a well written book. What grabbed my attention initially was the idea that it was a book written by a book--namely the Principia Mathematica by Isaac Newton.

On the whole it reminded me of Moll Flanders...a picaresque novel. While this is a long tradition for novels and writers to follow, the original picaresque novels followed rogues and other sundry sorts of villains/troublemakers. That's what made them interesting. In this case the novel suffers because the main charact
Feb 28, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
It has NEVER taken me 3 weeks to read 240 pages of a book.

This book was too wordy. (I had to sit with a dictionary for some of the words.) The initial premise was good, and I did wonder how it all was to turn out...

HOWEVER, by the 230th page (of 400 +) I found Jennet's, the main character, life so preposterous, I just couldn't read any more. Jennet was born the child of one of England's last "witchfinders." Mom died in the birth of her brother. She educated each summer with a science loving Aunt
May 23, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
I had to give this book only two stars (really, I'd say 2.5) because it took me for-ev-er to read. I kept putting it down in favor of other books. I didn't find the first half very engaging. It picked up after that.

The peculiar narrative device employed here is that the novel is narrated by a book - Newton's treatise the Principia Mathematica. The Principia, in turn, tells the story of Jennet Stearne, daughter of a late-seventeenth century witchfinder. Jennet's father condemns Jennet's beloved a
Lolly K Dandeneau
Mar 24, 2009 rated it liked it
Seems I have been on a religious ficitonal bend, by chance. This is a scary novel because events that take place in this 'fictional' book aren't far from actual history. Thinking about the time when many inocents were burned as heretics often doesn't reach us to the core, because we have not witnessed such horror (sure we have our modern day forms of witchfinding I suppose) but to envision through text the horrid fact that someone could have their own family member, etc burned at the stake and w ...more
Aug 03, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites
Jennet Stearne is now one of my all-time favourite literary characters. The device of giving Newtons Principia a character and voice, through which the Age of Reason is defined, was a unique stroke which grounded the story in reality. Ms Stearne, rare enough as a devotee of Reason and Science, and rarer still as a female character of the time period to do so, is wonderful. Stubborn, irascible, flawed and highly principled, her fight to rid Britain, and later the US, of the doctrine in law and su ...more
Jun 01, 2007 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this book tremendously. So often when famous people from history are written into a fictional situation, blatant conflicts with historical fact and actions inconsistent with what is known about the person ruin my enjoyment of the story.

Morrow's skillful blend of historical fact with his fiction allows me to enjoy the characters and the flow of the story without feeling the need to grab my red pen and history books. (Though I did have a few occasions for a good wince.)

I also enjoyed th
Aug 18, 2007 rated it did not like it
I did not enjoy this book. The plot, especially the bits irrelevant to the main goal of disproving witchcraft and overthrowing the persecution of supposed witches, required not so much a suspension of disbelief as a complete trouncing of it. Yet as bad as the content was, the writing was even worse. The similes, metaphors, and descriptors used were absolutely ridiculous! I've never read anything else by James Morrow (and after this, I never will), so I don't know if he always writes in this self ...more
This is from a review:
From a writer who has been lauded as "an original -- stylistically ingenious, savagely funny, always unpre-dictable" (Philadelphia Inquirer) and "unerring" (San Diego Union-Tribune), who has been compared to Mark Twain, Kurt Vonnegut, and John Updike,

Well let me tell you - ugh. I am not sure what the quality of this writer's other books are. I am also not sure how I slugged through this book. He took an interesting concept and stretched it to its limit with unbelievable an
Aug 02, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2006june
A book narrated by a book. Seriously. The conceit gets tiresome now and then, but for the most part, Last Witchfinder is a great read.

Period pieces have to be richly drawn for me to care, and this one sucked me right in, ranging from introspective to the edge of silly. To note: pirates, witches, freak shows, Robert Hooke, democracy, theology, kidnapping, shipwrecks, Isaac Newton, slavery, electricity, reason vs. fanaticism, a sex guide and more than I could list here.

It's worth it to know as lit
Christina Wilder
Oct 04, 2012 rated it liked it
The conflict between science and religion is the emotional backdrop of James Morrow's The Last Witchfinder, set in 17th century England during the heyday of the Parliamentary Witchcraft Act. The story itself is told through two characters; Jennet Stearne, whose father Walter is a well-known "witchpricker" who hopes to become the Royal Witchfinder, and Isaac Newton's opus Principia Mathematica, who speaks directly to the reader as Jennet's story unfolds.

This story was all over the place, but I li
Jan 03, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Really enjoyed this book, not least of all because despite its 500 pages, I had the leisure read it in a relatively short time. Historical novel with a great narrator - up there with Bartimaeus and Humbert, and I kept hearing Stephen Fry in the book-on-tape in my mind - and even when you feel the author might have stacked the deck a little, he's still talking about witch-hunters, universally recognized as difficult to defend. I mean, anybody out there feel like they'd love to have hung out with ...more
Aug 15, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourite-books
The clash between reason and superstition has never been written in such original manner. Intelligent and witty and many times hilarious, it is mix of true historical facts mixed with fiction. Set in Enland and America, with a range of characters as Isaac Newton, Benjamin Franklin and Abigail Williams from the Salem Witch Trials and narrated by a book, it is a thought-provoking book despite its tongue-in-cheek air. The battle between " Principia" and " Malleus..." are quite funny! Recommended.
Apr 11, 2009 rated it did not like it
I have enjoyed everything Morrow has written. But I was not able to finish this one. His writing style changed so drastically. His handling of his moral seems shallow. Ok, whitch hunters made stuff up to prove someone was a witch in order to make money. It was handled in such a predictable way.
Aug 01, 2009 rated it did not like it
I only read 37 pp., but it was consistently painful enough that I feel just fine abandoning the book. Clever and well researched, but cool, emotionally distant and completely lacking in sympathetic characters. Completely. I bought it on deep discount and still feel misused.
Dec 05, 2008 rated it did not like it
Long and ridiculous - and by that I don't mean funny, although that's about the only thing this book didn't attempt. I don't recommend this unless you're really into absured linkages of top-ten mentions from the 1700s. The Forrest Gump of witchiness.
Ron Charles
James Morrow's novel about early American witchcraft pulls off so many dazzling feats of literary magic that in a different century he'd have been burned at the stake. Forget "The Crucible," Arthur Miller's dreary classic. Forget the repugnant kitsch of modern-day Salem. The Last Witchfinder flies us back to that thrilling period when scientific rationalism was dropped into the great cauldron of intellectual history, boiling with prejudice, tradition, piety and fear. The result is a fantastical ...more
Oct 19, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: historical
Looking back at the order of books that I have read thus far, I wonder to myself why I did not choose to pick this book up immediately after I finished reading Jonathan Kirsch's The Grand Inquisitor's Manual, a nonfictional account of the Inquisition. Now that I think about it, though, it was a good idea that I didn't go straight from Kirsch's work to Morrow's. The intellectual current started by The Grand Inquisitor's Manual would likely have prevented me from seeing and appreciating The Last W ...more
Hannah Stewart
Jul 03, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: did-not-finish
This book was so unenjoyable. It was pretentious, the wording was trying too hard to be Ye old fashioned 16th century, yet remain relevant to today's readers. The characters were unlikable, their plot arcs didn't make sense.
And then there was the stupid...changeover. I have no other way to describe it. One second you are reading normally (well...) the next... I'm assuming the author had put in a clever demon story in those bits but none of it made any sense!
I don't even want to give it half a
Oct 11, 2010 rated it really liked it
I confess about 15% of this book went whizzing over and beyond my head, but I rather enjoyed the sound of flapping wings as it went; probably because I just didn't worry about it and frankly didn't care. The majority landed on the mark and I'm happy with that.

The weirdest thing about this book is that the narrator is another book that likes to interrupt the main story now and again to give his two cents on the on-going battle between reason (science) and superstition (religion). The narrator is
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Life story of the woman who fought to abolish witchfinding in the 1700s 2 20 Nov 13, 2008 05:06PM  
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Born in 1947, James Kenneth Morrow has been writing fiction ever since he, as a seven-year-old living in the Philadelphia suburbs, dictated “The Story of the Dog Family” to his mother, who dutifully typed it up and bound the pages with yarn. This three-page, six-chapter fantasy is still in the author’s private archives. Upon reaching adulthood, Jim produced nine novels of speculative fiction, incl ...more
More about James K. Morrow...

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“The next time somebody announces that he plans to get Medieval on your ass, tell him you're going to get Renaissance on his gonads.” 61 likes
“I have never known any distress that an hour's reading did not relieve.” 10 likes
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