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About The Book

Named a best historical novel of the year by The New York Times Book Review and “reminiscent of both The Scarlet Letter and Hamnet” (Jezebel), The Witching Tide is a powerful debut inspired by the true events behind a deadly witch hunt in 17th-century England.

East Anglia, 1645. Martha Hallybread, a midwife, healer, and servant, has lived peacefully for more than four decades in her beloved seaside village of Cleftwater. Having lost her voice as a child, Martha has not spoken a word in years.

One autumn morning, a sinister newcomer appears in town. A “witchfinder,” Silas Makepeace has been blazing a trail of destruction along the coast, and his arrival in Cleftwater strikes fear into the heart of the community. Within a day, local women are being detained. Martha is enlisted to search the accused women for “devil’s marks,” and finds herself a silent witness to the hunt.

Martha is caught between suspicion and betrayal; between shielding herself or condemning the women of the village. In desperation, she revives a wax witching doll that belonged to her mother, in the hope that it will bring protection. But the doll’s true powers are unknowable, Martha harbors a terrible secret, and the gallows are looming…

Set over the course of a few weeks that forever changed history, and for readers of Hilary Mantel and Margaret Atwood, The Witching Tide “illuminates a dark historical period and cautions against its recreation” (Kirkus Reviews).

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for THE WITCHING TIDE includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these suggestions will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


The once peaceful seaside village of Cleftwater is thrown into a state of terror when witch-hunter Silas Makepeace arrives. Almost instantly, local women are arrested and subject to violent investigation. Martha Hallybread, a well-respected midwife, tries to put a stop to the cruelty by drawing on the power of a wax witching doll she inherited from her late mother. In an attempt to protect her, Martha’s employer volunteers her to help examine the accused women for Devil’s marks. While Martha wants to defend women she knows are innocent, she is put in an impossible position: condemn her neighbors or herself. As the situation grows more and more dire, Martha must find a way to take a stand.

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. The novel is divided into sections representing the four humors of Hippocratic medicine: yellow bile, black bile, phlegm, and blood. This system of medicine was largely popular until the 1850s. Each humor was believed to represent a different temperament: yellow bile for a choleric or irritable nature, black bile for melancholy, phlegm for a reserved nature, and if these humors were balanced in the blood, that would indicate a sanguine nature. Discuss Meyer’s choice to organize the novel this way. How do the events in each section reflect each humor?

2. Martha is unable to speak and often has trouble breathing “because of the thing in her throat . . . a serpent, a worm” (pages 6–7). The “worm” is referenced several times throughout as the reason Martha can’t speak. Why might Martha describe her condition in this way? What is your interpretation of this affliction?

3. Though Martha is nonspeaking, she communicates with a form of sign language. The author indicates this by putting Martha’s dialogue in italics or describing her hand motions. What did you make of Martha’s method of communication? How does being nonverbal affect her relationships and her life in general? Discuss the different ways her silence reflects the themes of the book.

4. Throughout the novel, health issues are often associated with witchcraft. For example, Marion’s newborn had “almost no neck” and “its top lip was over-large” (page 17). Later, Marion’s sister Jennet accuses Martha of cursing the baby and then has a seizure herself. Martha saves her but worries what would happen if “news of the fit reached the witch man” (page 39). Though we now understand these medical conditions, discuss why our ancestors interpreted illnesses as spiritual signs.

5. Religious faith is central to the events of the novel. Martha believes her faith is unconventional because it has “some basic defect, its restless inner needle always roving, from conviction to disbelief to shame and around again” (page 25). Talk about the different ways in which the characters turn to their faith throughout the novel.

6. When Martha first brings out the poppet, she describes it as having “two faces” (page 10). How does this theme of having two sides appear throughout the novel? Who else is described as having a dual nature? What is significant about this refrain?

7. The poppet, the wax doll, the witching doll, is so important a figure that it is practically a character. How is it characterized, and how does its relationship to others evolves as the story progresses?

8. Though Martha and Kit are practically family, Kit puts Martha in a difficult situation, offering her services to the witch man in identifying “Devil’s marks” on the accused women. Why do you think Kit made this recommendation? What do you think of Kit as a character?

9. The fear of witchcraft makes even long-term friends question one another. Even Martha has her doubts and thinks, “How dreadful it was, how unworthy, to harbour this singular terror—primitive, ancient—that among them, these women, her friends, there could be a witch” (page 18). What is Martha lamenting? Does her struggle have any parallels today?

10. Martha and Jennet have a tumultuous relationship. They support and protect each other at times, and mistrust and doubt each other later. Talk about their strained friendship and about the female friendships throughout the novel.

11. There are several instances where Martha has visions—of the poppet, of her mother—and interprets some meaning from these events. Sometimes she believes them to be a warning, other times a sign. What do you make of Martha having these visions?

12. When Martha is facing an interrogation by Master Makepeace, she realizes that she is “reduced” in his gaze, “one more nonentity in a host, a multitude, a legion of women . . . countless women, those who had been and those yet to come; those already dead and those yet to die at his hands” (page 268). Consider how misogyny is at play in the way the women are accused, inspected, and sentenced. What were the consequences for supporting women? What were the rewards for condemning them?

13. In a dream, Martha witnesses a great coming together of women and hears their voices saying: “We are monstrous, legion; We are too many, We are never enough” (page 292).

Discuss the meaning of this passage. Talk about the solidarity among women (or lack thereof) in the novel.

Enhance Your Book Club

1. Martha has a “physick garden” where she grows a variety of herbs for medicinal uses (page 8). Some of these herbs are commonly in use today, including rosemary, mint, and sage. Look into the modern medicinal uses of herbs.

2. In her acknowledgements, Meyer referenced numerous works of nonfiction which informed the writing of The Witching Tide. Consider looking at the works mentioned to supplement your reading experience.

About The Author

Photograph by Andi Sapey

Margaret Meyer was born in Canada, grew up in New Zealand and now lives in Norwich, England. She worked in publishing before becoming a therapist, and has a degree in creative writing from the University of East Anglia. The Witching Tide, her first novel, was inspired by the events of the 1645–7 East Anglian witch hunt and is dedicated to the more than 100 innocent women who lost their lives.

About The Reader

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio (September 5, 2023)
  • Runtime: 9 hours and 36 minutes
  • ISBN13: 9781797161167

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