The Essex Serpent is nearly flawless and maintains a quiet and human scaled sense of suspense throughout that will keep you eagerly reading.
The characters are believably eccentric. I found myself liking aspects of them all and feeling concerned for their welfare. Love between the different characters (or lack of it), is depicted in fresh, real, and complicated ways. A mother can’t quite connect with her son; a widow feels relief at the death of her husband; with a sense of guilt, a woman uses another’s unrequited affection to achieve larger good.
While I have heard much made of the “Victorian” setting, this book comes across as era-less to me. Its story, humanity, and the issues it addresses are universal and beyond dictates of style and fashion.
This is one of those books with which you find yourself relieved and contented to be spending time with. It is a near effortless read that is intelligently written. Unusually, it is also one that I will find easy to recommend to a broad spectrum of readers.
— Barbette Houser
When a young widow moves with her son and companion to a small village in Essex, she first hears of the legendary Essex Serpent. As the the monster begins to infect her life, and the lives of the other villagers, she is drawn into their world of marsh and fog. The Essex Serpent is part mystery, part love story, part portrait of life in Victorian England. Like the mysterious serpent, the novel morphs and shifts seamlessly between threads and characters, all held together by Perry's spectacularly assured prose. It's immersive, intoxicating, and unforgettable.— Tyler Goodson
“If you love mystery, Victorian England, and exploring the tension between science and religion, you will love The Essex Serpent. Many contemporary authors manage to evoke for readers that experience of reading Jane Austen or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle for the first time. The real miracle of Sarah Perry is that she manages to do so with a completely fresh voice. With beautiful sentences and characters and landscapes so well-crafted you feel you've been there, The Essex Serpent captures the imagination and manages to deliver the sense of wisdom only good literature can.”
— Tina Ontiveros (W), Klindt's Booksellers, The Dalles, OR
“Sarah Perry’s Essex Serpent is as intricate, sublime, deep, dark, and mysterious as its titular character. I found myself entranced by the people populating this novel’s backwoods Victorian Essex and busy, gloomy London and the clashes they have at the borders of faith and reason, love and social justice.”
— Megan Bell, Underground Books, Carrollton, GA
Costa Book Award Finalist and the Waterstones (UK) Book of the Year 2016
I loved this book. At once numinous, intimate and wise, The Essex Serpent is a marvelous novel about the workings of life, love and belief, about science and religion, secrets, mysteries, and the complicated and unexpected shifts of the human heart--and it contains some of the most beautiful evocations of place and landscape I've ever read. It is so good its pages seem lit from within. As soon as I'd finished it I started reading it again.--Helen MacDonald, author of H is for Hawk
An exquisitely talented young British author makes her American debut with this rapturously acclaimed historical novel, set in late nineteenth-century England, about an intellectually minded young widow, a pious vicar, and a rumored mythical serpent that explores questions about science and religion, skepticism, and faith, independence and love.
When Cora Seaborne's brilliant, domineering husband dies, she steps into her new life as a widow with as much relief as sadness: her marriage was not a happy one. Wed at nineteen, this woman of exceptional intelligence and curiosity was ill-suited for the role of society wife. Seeking refuge in fresh air and open space in the wake of the funeral, Cora leaves London for a visit to coastal Essex, accompanied by her inquisitive and obsessive eleven-year old son, Francis, and the boy's nanny, Martha, her fiercely protective friend.
While admiring the sites, Cora learns of an intriguing rumor that has arisen further up the estuary, of a fearsome creature said to roam the marshes claiming human lives. After nearly 300 years, the mythical Essex Serpent is said to have returned, taking the life of a young man on New Year's Eve. A keen amateur naturalist with no patience for religion or superstition, Cora is immediately enthralled, and certain that what the local people think is a magical sea beast may be a previously undiscovered species. Eager to investigate, she is introduced to local vicar William Ransome. Will, too, is suspicious of the rumors. But unlike Cora, this man of faith is convinced the rumors are caused by moral panic, a flight from true belief.
These seeming opposites who agree on nothing soon find themselves inexorably drawn together and torn apart--an intense relationship that will change both of their lives in ways entirely unexpected.
Hailed by Sarah Waters as a work of great intelligence and charm, by a hugely talented author, The Essex Serpent is irresistible . . . you can feel the influences of Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens, and Hilary Mantel channeled by Perry in some sort of Victorian's ance. This is the best new novel I've read in years (Daily Telegraph, London).