The Essex Serpent

There is scarcely a corner of these damp islands of ours without some beauty or interest value. Even Essex. Holidaying in Colchester last Summer allowed me to enjoy the rich history of the area. Sarah Perry’s ( second novel, The Essex Serpent is set in Victorian London and an Essex village in the 1890’s. It is enlivened by the debates on scientific and medical discovery which defined the era, and has at its heart the story of two extraordinary people who fall for each other, but not in the usual way.


These 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. Since the discovery after new year celebrations of a drowned man, ‘naked, his head turned almost 180 degrees, a look of dread in his eyes’, the village has felt itself ‘under judgment’. Why has the serpent – which last terrorised the locality with its leathery wings and snapping beak in 1669 – returned? What have the villagers done wrong? They’re a simple, pagan lot, stringing up dead animals to scare it off, hanging horseshoes in the branches of a tree known as Traitor’s Oak. Even the children perform rituals, down by the water. With Cora’s arrival, everything ramps up, and an outbreak of madness at the school leads to a disastrous attempt to hypnotise the rector’s daughter. A winged leviathan ‘with eyes like a sheep’, which causes men to lose their reason and never find it again, could be the embodiment of fear and superstition. Will love and the re-discovery of reason dispel that fear?


In essence, this novel is a celebration of love, and the many different guises it can take. I think you’ll be taken to a different place from Lanark and enchanted.


This novel achieved Waterstones Book of the Year 2016, was shortlisted for the 2016 Costa Novel Award, and was longlisted for the Wellcome Book Prize 2017


Enquire at your local library. Check if this admired new novel is in stock by consulting the online catalogue at



432 pages in Serpent’s Tale

First published 2016

ISBN  978-1781255445



Sarah Perry

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