Review: The Essex Serpent – Sarah Perry

40 - The Essex Serpent

Rating – 4*

Where to begin with this book, I don’t know. It is a magnificent feat I will give it that. I liked this novel quite a lot, but I didn’t love it and for that simple reason I feel a little disappointed. Oh, this book did nothing wrong. It was beautiful. But for me there was just something lacking, and what that was I don’t know.

The Essex Serpent was right up my alley. Historical fiction, slightly fantastic, fabulously Gothic, and reads like a classic. Honestly, it really wouldn’t be out of place among books written in the period it was set. It’s really hard to say that it didn’t feel like a recently written book, because it was fresh and the ideas in it were fantastic, but stylistically for me I would compare it to work by the Bronte’s, especially Anne and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

We follow Cora Seaborne, a young widow with a son, who moves to a village in Essex for a new start. She enters the parish as it is caught up in the myth of the Essex Serpent, a creature who is said to roam the marshes and take lives, who they think has returned. Cora, a keen amateur naturalist, is convinced this creature is real and sets out to find it, and prove the myth true. Cora is, generally, a delightful character and her enthusiasm for natural history is awesome – I love a lady scientist, especially in a historical context! It is truly an incredible tale, with a cast of amazing characters (none of whom are too small or insignificant to be well rounded, though some fall a little flat for me). One thing I liked most is that often a historical novel, with a woman who has what we consider modern interests and ideals, seems out of place and contrived yet this really didn’t. In fact, it was done so sublimely that it didn’t feel forced, it was very believable and I really appreciated that.

However, at this point I hear you saying “if you loved it so much, why only 4 stars?”. Well, I wasn’t caught up in all of it. While it was a beautifully written book, and I loved the main plot point, I found the interaction between some characters forced. I didn’t much like Will, or his involvement in the story, and because it heavily revolved around his interaction with Cora I then found myself getting frustrated at the book as a whole. I wanted to love this, so much; so many people I respect have adored this book, but for me it was just lacking that something to make it amazing for me. While on the whole it was great and beautifully crafted, in parts I found it a little dull.

But, I am glad I finally read it. And it is absolutely beautiful. So give it a go if historical, fantastical, lady-scientists do it for you because I think you’ll like it!

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