Essex Serpent

Cora is recently widowed, and not nearly as sad as her society dictates she should be. She very quickly warms to the idea that she is no longer required to be meek and obedient. She decamps London, with son Francis and friend Martha in tow, for rural Essex. There she can pursue her study of fossils and lost creatures.

Through an introduction by the doctor who helped care for her ailing husband, Cora befriends the local vicar, Will Ransome, and his family. The tiny town of Aldwinter proves to be even more provincial than expected, where she helps a stranger pull a lost sheep from the marshy mire on her first night. She also soon learns the villagers believe there is a monstrous creature lurking in the tidal shoals — just waiting to attack.

There’s something there, he feels it, biding its time — implacable, monstrous, born in water, always with an eye cocked in his direction. Down in the deeps it slumbered and up it’s come at last: he imagines it breasting the wave, avidly scenting the air. ~ Loc. 65

Cora finds the superstition amusing and hopes to be able to prove their fears misguided with science. Will sees a flock in trouble and wants to stamp out their fears with affirmation of divine love. Though they do not see eye to eye, they have great respect for one another’s intellect — something Cora has always wanted in a friend.

thames-whale
A Trew Draught of the Whale as he was seen at Blackwall Dock, 1690

Of course, the hunt for a mysterious creature is not what the book is really about. It’s a lens through which each character views their own life. We learn what the monster is to them, and what it is they fear most.

There are a few Gothic elements — an impish doctor, an autistic boy, a consumptive wife and an ancient stone church. Perry also uses the conventions of Victorian novels such as multiple points of view, letters, diaries and mistaken identity.

Perhaps the most terrifying moment in the book comes with children’s laughter turned hysteria.

The wickedness of the idea cheered her, and when Joanna came back to her seat Naomi was circling her paintbrush in the pot of ink, laughing. … She stirred and stirred the pot of ink, and plots appeared on the sheet of which paper in front of her … and laughed harder, only she wasn’t sure whether the laughter really had anything to do with her own thoughts, because it was so loud and strange, and she couldn’t stop it, even though she saw Joanna look puzzled, and a little cross. ~Loc. 2376

It’s a study on what paranoia and suspicion can become, and what wonder can inspire. It becomes an allegory for the First Fall, and what humans will do with the knowledge once they are granted it.

My most sincere thanks to Anna-Marie at Serpent’s Tail (UK) who made sure I received an e-copy to read and review. I can’t imagine it will be long before this thoughtful book finds a US publisher.
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Hardcover
Release Date: June 2, 2016
Language: English
ISBN-10: 178125544X
ISBN-13: 978-1781255445
Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1.4 x 8.8 inches

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