REVIEW: The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

One of my reading challenges this year is the GirlXOXO 2021 Monthly Motif Reading Challenge and the January motif is “Once Upon A Time” so I started off the year outside my usual genre with this award-winning tale set in Victorian era England. Bonus that it also hits the “Fantasy Creature” square in 52 Books in 52 Weeks Bingo and is a TBR that I meant to read last year, but didn’t so also works for my 2021 PopSugar Reading Challenge.

I thoroughly enjoyed this heartwarming read mainly about the endurance of love and friendship. The heroine, Cora Seaborne, was a strong character, newly freed from an abusive marriage after her husband dies, who explores her naturalist passions in the quaint little seaside village of Aldwinter, Essex. She slowly heals emotionally with the support of good friends, both new and old, and eventually falls in love with the local vicar, William Ransome, whose wife is dying of consumption. Throughout the book, we learn of “modern-day” medical techniques such as heart surgery, hypnosis and hysteria and are treated to a mysterious, ancient “sea-dragon” that seems to have returned to punish the villagers for their sins and is blamed for the missing and the dead leading to heated discussions of science versus faith. We follow Martha, dear friend of Cora’s and nanny to her autistic son, in a passionate drive for better conditions for London’s poor that includes with a one-sided romance and a moment of violence born out of hopelessness. There is yet more unrequited love in the novel, often entangling several characters at once and Perry writes with such vivid imagery bringing the English coast firmly to mind with its misty fog, gray waters and seeping mudflats that these haunting landscapes lend another layer of eeriness to the tale.

There’s quite a bit going on in this somewhat mythical tale with storylines interweaving as much as the serpent itself. It’s worth a read, and if you happen to read it on a gray, rainy weekend, all the better.

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