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Critical Praise

“A novel of almost insolent ambition --- lush and fantastical, a wild Eden behind a garden’s part ghost story and part natural history lesson, part romance and part feminist parable. I found it so transporting that 48 hours after completing it, I was still resentful to be back home.”

—New York Times

“Gloriously alive”


“A fabulous summer read... If MIDDLEMARCH heroine Dorothea Brooke had heard of dinosaurs, she might have gone tromping through the salt marshes with Cora Seaborne.”

—Christian Science Monitor

“The sumptuous twists and turns of Perry’s prose invite close reading, as deep and strange and full of narrative magic as the Blackwater itself. Fans of Sarah Waters, A.S. Byatt, and Elizabeth Gilbert’s THE SIGNATURE OF ALL THINGS should prepare to fall under Perry’s spell and into her very capable hands. Stuffed with smarts and storytelling sorcery, this is a work of astonishing breadth and brilliance.”

—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“The vivid, often frightening imagery…and the lush descriptions…create a magical background for the sensual love story between Sarah and Will. Book discussion groups will have a field day with the imagery, the well-developed characters, and the concepts of innocence, evil, and guilt.”

—Booklist (starred review)

“In Perry’s excellent second novel… a fatal illness, a knife-wielding maniac, and a fated union with the Essex Serpent will dictate the ultimate happiness of [the] characters. Like John Fowles’s THE FRENCH LIEUTENANT'S WOMAN, whose Lyme Regis setting gets a shout-out here, this is another period literary pastiche with a contemporary overlay.”

—Publishers Weekly

“Compulsive...narrative and voice coil together until it is very difficult to stop reading.”

—The Guardian


—People (Book of the Week)

“Astonishing...Perry’s prose is rich, textured, and intricate...a thoughtful and elegant book about the human need for knowledge and love, and about the fears and desires we bury.”


“Triumphs on every level, whether in its rich, evocative prose or its authentic Victorian detail, its credible, multifaceted characters or its high-stakes drama... Perry likened writing her novel to a ‘possession.’ Reading it, we find ourselves under a similar mesmerizing spell.”

—Minneapolis Star Tribune

“THE ESSEX SERPENT is Sarah Perry’s first book to come across the pond to us from Great Britain, and it is a corker... Even the most minor characters are filled with a particular life, light and of the best, most memorable novels I have read in long years.”

—Daily Herald

“As engrossing as its reputation would suggest...Perry’s command of language as a tool to evoke time and place proves remarkable.”

—Paste Magazine

“Richly enjoyable... Ms. Perry writes beautifully and sometimes agreeably sharply... THE ESSEX SERPENT is most easily discussed as a novel of ideas, and it is indeed that, and a very good one. But it has the virtues of the traditional novels, too: a strong narrative full of surprises; thoroughly imagined characters whose relationships with one another are credible and complicated; and those descriptive passages which not only paint a picture but create an atmosphere. In short, THE ESSEX SERPENT is a wonderfully satisfying novel. Ford Madox Ford thought the glory of the novel was its ability to make the reader think and feel at the same time. This one does just that.”

—Wall Street Journal

“The most delightful heroine since Elizabeth Bennet in PRIDE AND PREJUDICE…Perry creates that delicate illusion of the best historical fiction: an authentic sense of the past --- its manners, ideals and speech --- that feels simultaneously distant and relevant to us…By the end, THE ESSEX SERPENT identifies a mystery far greater than some creature ‘from the illuminated margins of a manuscript’: friendship.”

—Washington Post

“A work of great intelligence and charm, by a hugely talented author.”

—Sarah Waters, author of FINGERSMITH

“The 2016 UK edition of THE ESSEX SERPENT received widespread acclaim, and the novel is sure to garner an enthusiastic U.S. audience as well… Dickensian in scope, depth, and exquisite use of language, THE ESSEX SERPENT reveals the landscapes, links, and conflicted longings of a fascinating cast of characters. A widow liberated by death from an abusive husband and her (probably) autistic son rebuild their lives with bits of bones and shells; a pious vicar confronts unwelcome passions, collisions of faith and science, the ravages of tuberculosis, and a traumatized congregation. A gifted surgeon utterly devoid of social skills struggles to heal himself. With a deft hand, Perry takes us into class struggles, politics, women’s issues, and the profound anxieties that marked these times. At once love story and mystery, deeply penetrating layered characters with wit and grace, THE ESSEX SERPENT reveals the mundane beast that spawned wild rumors, and the stranger, less easily unmasked beasts within us.”

—Historical Novels Review

“Perry’s second novel is a dazzling and intellectually nimble work of Gothic fiction.”

—San Francisco Gate

“I loved this book. At once numinous, intimate and wise, THE ESSEX SERPENT is a marvellous 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

“Everything they’re saying is true: sumptuous, beautiful, powerful, engrossing, brilliant.”

—Nina Stibbe

“[T]he most deeply satisfying fiction you will read this year.”

—Waterstones Book of the Year

“A blissful novel of unapologetic appetites, where desire and faith mingle on the marshes, but friendship is the miracle. Sarah Perry has the rare gift of committing the uncommittable to prose --- that is to say: here is a writer who understands life.”

—Jessie Burton, author of THE MINIATURIST

“A big, warm, generous novel that wears its considerable wisdom lightly, THE ESSEX SERPENT is an absolute pleasure from start to finish --- I truly didn’t want it to end.”

—Melissa Harrison, author of AT HAWTHORN TIME

“For originality, richness of prose and depth of characterization is unlikely to be bettered this year... one of the most memorable historical novels of the past decade.”

—Sunday Times

“Confident, intelligent and original storytelling --- I was seduced by the many charms of THE ESSEX SERPENT.”

—Laline Paull, author of THE BEES

“Had Charles Dickens and Bram Stoker come together to write the great Victorian novel, I wonder if it would have surpassed THE ESSEX SERPENT? No way of knowing, but with only her second outing, Sarah Perry establishes herself as one of the finest fiction writers working in Britain today. THE ESSEX SERPENT is nothing less than an all-out triumph.”

—John Burnside

“A suspenseful love story… THE ESSEX SERPENT recalls variously the earthiness of Emily Brontë, the arch, high-tensile tone of Conan Doyle, the evocation of time and place achieved by Hilary Mantel and Sarah Waters and the antiquarian edgelands horror of M. R. James.”

—New Statesman

“Perry’s achieved the near impossible…A thing of beauty inside and out… a stunning achievement.”

—The Independent

“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 séance. This is the best new novel I’ve read in years.”

—Daily Telegraph

“An exquisitely absorbing, old-fashioned page-turner…THE ESSEX SERPENT is shot through with such a vivid, lively sense of the period that it reads like Charles Dickens at his most accessible and fans of JONATHAN STRANGE & MR. NORRELL will also find much to love.”

—Daily Express

“Perry fully inhabits many of the concerns and stylistic elements of the 19th century novel --- but its interests are still contemporary ones: desire, fulfillment and questioning the world.... Her language is exquisite, her characterization finely tuned. Based on THE ESSEX SERPENT and its predecessor, it’s clear that Perry is a gifted writer of immense ability.”

—Irish Times

“A Victorian-era gothic with a Dickensian focus on societal ills, Perry’s second novel surprises in its wonderful freshness.... Perry’s singular characters are drawn with a fondness that is both palpable and contagious, and the beautifully observed changing seasons permitted space to breathe, all making for pure pleasure.”

—The Observer

“Sarah Perry’s novel of 19th century England tackles big ideas...reversals and sharp darts of psychological insight combined with a sense of the substance and feeling of late 19th-century ideas in bloom make this a fine novel, both historical and otherwise.”