Book Review: Newes from the Dead by Mary Hooper

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I came across this book during some independent research I was doing for an article I was writing about “Half-Hangit Maggie”, who had an ordeal similar to that of Hooper’s protagonist, Anne Green. As a piece of historical fiction, I was impressed, overall. The story flipped between Anne’s first-person narration as well as a limited omniscient narration that focused on the medical student Robert who was present at her later “dissection”. This was a very effective way of storytelling that made this a very quick read; I think I finished this in two days, tops.

The story follows the conscious thoughts of 17th century housemaid Anne Green who should not be conscious at all since she had recently been executed. As she lies there in the dark, not knowing if she is dead or alive, she reflects on her life and the events that led her there. We hear Anne’s story of deception and seduction from her employer’s lustful grandson. She eventually becomes pregnant conceals her condition in fear. Once she gives birth to a stillborn child, she is wrongfully accused of killing it, which leads to her eventual execution by the hangman’s noose. Amidst her sorrowful recollection, we also read the account of what is happening around her after her execution: her body lies on a dissection table surrounded by doctors and medical students. One of them, Robert, sees certain signs that she may not be dead. Was that a cough? Did her eyelids flutter? Both Anne and Robert, in their own ways, try to prove there is still life in this executed corpse…before it is too late.

The book’s clever title not only reflects the real 1600’s pamphlet that was written in response to the phenomenon of this housemaid’s miraculous recovery, but parallels this “newes” as a reflection upon the events of Anne’s life that led her to her present state. I think this was smart on the author’s part, since history never confirms nor denies the true reason for Anne’s miraculous recovery. Hooper relates the story in her own words, using her imagination to fill in the gaps—as all good writers of historical fiction should do—and invites the reader to decide for themselves how Anne escaped death: was it divine providence due to her innocence? Did the hangman fail to tie the noose properly? Did the cold weather play a key factor? Or was this just an act of plain, universal justice?

Mary Hooper is the author of Fallen Grace, At the Sign of the Sugared Plum Series, The Remarkable Life and Times of Eliza Rose, and many other mystery and historical fiction novels for children and young adults. A big fan of historical fiction books myself, I will probably dive into more of her books. I’m glad that Hooper chose to incorporate outside sources into the book, despite it being a novel. She includes a copy of the actual pamphlet “News from the Dead” at the end of Anne’s story to allow the reader to compare the similarities between the recorded history as well as Hooper’s interpretation of it. She also includes a bibliography for further research.

Another strength to this story was its language. It was simple, mainly because Anne was a simple character with a simple education, but it kept me engaged in the story instead of trying to get through overly descriptive dialogue. This can be hard to do when inside a character’s mind, but the author executes it well in respect to the protagonist.

I have never been a fan of stories that contain sexual encounters, though I understand in this case it was pertinent to Anne’s story. So, though I was disturbed at some of the content pertaining to the seduction and degradation that Anne suffered, I’m glad that Hooper did not overelaborate sexual descriptions like I’ve seen other authors do.  

Overall, I thought this story was a suitable piece of literature that informs its readers of 17th century issues pertaining to attitudes of the upper and lower classes, religion, medical knowledge, and living conditions. The author describes Anne’s humiliations in a very personable way that also shows the growth of her character and what she has learned from her ordeal. Though violence and sex are not absent from this work, it does not glorify it but rather teaches a lesson. Hooper knows her audience, and I agree that this story is better fit for teens rather than children, so I would recommend this tale to ages 13+.

* Content Advisory for Future Readers *

  • Language: 1/5 – A few lewd comments pertaining to women
  • Sex: 3/5 – Suggestive language; mild descriptions of sexual encounters from Anne’s recollections and stories from prostitutes
  • Violence/Gore: 2/5 – Graphic childbirth scene; execution; dissection descriptions
  • Drugs/Alcohol: 1/5 – Some references to alcohol; a drink character

Published by Ashley Weaver

I am a writer, reader, student, and teacher of literature and the English language.

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