Book Review – The Essex Serpent

The Essex Serpent
By Sarah Perry
Serpent’s Tail
Rating **

Set in Victorian London and an Essex village in the 1890’s, and enlivened by the debates on scientific and medical discovery which defined the era, The Essex Serpent has at its heart the story of two extraordinary people who fall for each other, but not in the usual way.

They are Cora Seaborne and Will Ransome. Cora is a well-to-do London widow who moves to the Essex parish of Aldwinter, and Will is the local vicar. They meet as their village is engulfed by rumours that the mythical Essex Serpent, once said to roam the marshes claiming human lives, has returned. Cora, a keen amateur naturalist is enthralled, convinced the beast may be a real undiscovered species. But Will sees his parishioners’ agitation as a moral panic, a deviation from true faith. Although they can agree on absolutely nothing, as the seasons turn around them in this quiet corner of England, they find themselves inexorably drawn together and torn apart.


First of all I have to make comment on what a beautiful and intricate cover design this book has. Designed by Peter Dyer the William Morris inspired cover is truly stunning.

The Essex Serpent overall for me was quite a disappointment, it has won awards and gained many positive reviews but for me the book wasn’t all what it has been made out to be, a couple of times reading it I was very close to giving up. The contemporary Victorian novel was charming in places but the whole narrative felt very flat to me, the chapters were long; some dull and I became bored quite frequently. The novel seemed more of a character study than a hunt for a mythical creature.

One thing I really did like about the novel was Sarah Perry’s innate ability to write beautiful descriptions of nature and its surroundings.

“The fog is pressed so close against the window I feel as if the whole house must’ve been blown up into a bank of cloud”

I could really visualise the of, the river, the muddy clay darkness of the Essex marshes, her descriptive writing really heightened the victorian gothic theme.

Throughout the novel I didn’t feel much of an emotional connection to any character. There ended up being quite a lot of characters which I felt could of been left out really, although Cora and Will were the main characters their perspectives weren’t told as much as I was expecting. With Cora I did feel empathy towards her and her violent past with her husband also she felt like she couldn’t connect with her son, I assume he was on the autistic spectrum so that made me feel quite sad that she couldn’t bond with her own son properly. I think she interested me as a 19th Century woman that was “unusual” in her ways, she didn’t dress properly or care for her appearance, she liked to roam around in the wild and investigate things alone and took a keen interest in nature and science. There were things I liked about her, other than her pretty name (Cora Seaborne) I just felt like I didn’t care about her but I don’t think this was because her character was flawed in any way I just think it was the lack of plot and lack of drive within the story. There just didn’t seem to be enough tension or drama with anything, including her “relationship” with Father Will or the serpent.

I personally love anything about the supernatural world, mythical creatures and superstitions, I was expecting this beast to be caught by the town and get taken to a museum, the whole serpent thing was really quite down played and dull. I think J.K Rowling’s Chamber of Secrets definitely has a lot more serpent based action. I understand that his book wasn’t really about the actual serpent but about mankind’s thoughts on science and fact vs religion and belief. But I was still disappointed with the lack of drama.

The Essex Serpent for me was interesting and charming in places, unfortunatly it wasn’t a book for me, the lack of plot and action really seemed to drag it out, but I do appreciate why others love this story so much.

What are your thoughts on The Essex Serpent? I would love to know so get in touch.Katie x

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