Reviewed by L.D.Y.
Hardcover, 336 pages, 2008
Reason for Reading: Historical fiction and the promise of the Salem witch trials? Yes, please.
Synopsis: Nine-year-old Sarah has a family that works hard on their farm and doesn’t especially go looking for trouble – except in the form of her mother, Martha, whose bold opinions don’t mesh well with what men expect women to act like. So maybe it’s not such a surprise when Martha and her razor-sharp tongue are accused of witchcraft in Salem, Massachusetts, in the 1600s. While Sarah has the same strong will as her mother, it’s not always aimed toward the same ends, but they’ll find themselves united in strength as Martha refuses to back down, certain that the truth will emerge and determined not to take a fall for something that isn’t true.
Why you should read this book: A love of historical fiction and strong female characters is bound to lead you to The Heretic’s Daughter for a ferociously good read. There is plenty of historical background, made especially interesting as America was such a new country at the time, but it’s never distracting – everything flows together and feels like a part of the story and not just a history lesson. All of the members of Sarah’s family come fully to life in Kent’s re-telling of a true event in history, slowly revealing their vulnerabilities as individuals and strengths as a family.
Why you should avoid this book: At times it can be hard to believe that Sarah is only nine, ten, or eleven years old, as she has the thoughtfulness, sense of responsibility, and the convictions of a much older child (or even an adult), which makes the tone of the book seem a little odd at times…but it can probably be forgiven considering the hard life that Sarah led. I was also worried when the climax of the story came a little early that my interest would flag, but Kent kept me reading until the very end.
The distance by wagon from Billerica to neighboring Andover is but nine miles. For myself it was more than a journey away from the only home I had ever known. It was the ending of a passage from the dark fog of infancy to the sharp remembrances of childhood. I was nine years of age on that December day and my entire family was going back to live with my grandmother in the house where my mother was born. We were six in all, cramped together in an open wagon, carrying within my mother and father, two of my older brothers, myself, and Hannah, who was but a baby. We had with us all of our household possessions. And we were bringing, unbeknownst to any of us, the smallpox.
Margaret and I traded scandalous stories whenever we could. Whenever she caught us, Aunt would gently remind us that gossiping was a sin, and so our stories were traded with caution. Margaret’s secrets were more interesting than mine, she being two years older and more experienced in the world than I. She seemed to know many unsavory things about her neighbors, but endlessly fascinating to me was her knowledge of the Invisible World. She knew how to tell a witch by the markings on her body. A witch’s teat could be disguised as a mole or any raised pustule on the skin.
Phoebe lay on the ground, her arms flung over her head, squealing like a titmouse caught in the jaws of a black snake. Some of the men had come to the door to witness the thrashing, and among them was uncle, holding a cup in his hand.
Picking up my bucket, I said to Merry, who was sucking on the wound in her hand, ‘I hope it rots until every finger on your thieving hand falls off.’
I turned to go, but the folds of wool wrapped around my neck were not enough to stop the sound of Mercy’s voice, hard and carrying. ‘You all heard,’ she said. ‘She cursed me. She has a witching way. But why else? She is her mother’s daughter.’
Also recommended: The Pirate’s Daughter by Margaret Cezair-Thompson; The Blood of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvani; Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks; Mistress Bradstreet by Charlotte Gordon.
Also by this author: The Heretic’s Daughter is Kent’s first novel.
Author’s website: kathleenkent.com
Fun tidbit: Kent is a tenth-generation descendant of the mother in the book, Martha Carrier.
Would I read more by this author? Yes, I love historical fiction.
© Lisa Yanaky 2003-2008