Sarah Perry's The Essex Serpent is a tale spun of wild fantasy, wherein the narrator (Cora Seaborne) embarks on a blissfully different life once her domineering husband dies.
Set in the Victorian era, this novel is part ghost story and part a history lesson. Wed at age nineteen, Cora is of above-average intelligence and boundless curiosity, traits that make living the life of a society wife unpleasant. In the wake of the funeral, she sets off for a visit to coastal Essex.
Shedding her whalebone corset for an oversize jacket, she heads out with her eleven-year old son Francis and her protective nanny, Martha. While traversing the sites, she hears of a rumor about a mystical sea beast—“some kind of leviathan with wings of leather and a toothy grin"—that haunts the people of Essex. Rumors claim that the creature steals children and breaks the necks of grown men. Though the populace rarely agree on anything, they come together in a fight against this forlorn monster. In the ensuing pages blossoms the age-old debate about whether science and faith live in opposition, a question carried throughout the novel.