Monday, May 3, 2010

Review: The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent

Title: The Heretic's Daughter
Author: Kathleen Kent
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company, 2008


Martha Carrier was hanged on August 19th 1692 in Salem, Massachusetts, unyielding in her refusal to admit to being a witch, going to her death rather than joining the ranks of men and women who confessed and were thereby spared execution. In this novel her story is told by her daughter, Sarah, who was 10-years-old at the time of the horrific Salem witch trials.

The story begins in 1690 as Sarah and her family are moving from their home in Billerica to live with Martha's mother in Andover. Although they don't realise it they carry with them the dreaded smallpox and will later be blamed for the sickness and deaths in Andover.

The first part of the book moves quietly and is a wonderful picture of the lives of these early settlers. A hard and brutal life .......little more than a daily struggle to survive, to overcome the harsh weather, the fears of sickness, marauding Indians, starvation and death. Physical hardship that was matched by a cold and heartless religion based on the belief that everything that goes wrong in life is a punishment from God for sin.
A religion that bullied and threatened ............and the easiest way to avoid having the finger pointed at yourself was to make sure it pointed at someone else. Discover their secrets, find their weakness.......

"A needle is such a small brittle thing. It is easily broken. It can hold but one fragile thread. But if the needle is sharp, it can pierce the coarsest cloth. Ply the needle in and out of a canvas and with a great length of thread one can make a sail to move a ship across the ocean. In such a way can a sharp gossipy tongue, with the thinnest thread of rumor, stitch together a story to flap in the breeze. Hoist that story upon the pillar of superstitious belief and a whole town can be pulled along with the wind of fear."

The central theme is not the witch trials but the relationship between Sarah and her mother. They are often at loggerheads and find difficulty in communicating on an emotional level. Not so strange really for I imagine a 10 yr old of that time would be the equivalent of a rebellious teenager now. Sarah will not only lose her mother in the most horrible way but will carry forever the memory of having to follow out her mother's instructions and testify against her in order to save herself and her brothers.

This is probably the best book I've ever read of the Salem Witch the first part Kathleen Kent skilfully lets the tension build quietly beneath the surface until the fear and suspicion burst forth and hysteria takes over. The details of the imprisonment of women with their tiny children in the most dreadful of conditions are quite terrible but out of the horror emerges a woman of courage and honour .

Kathleen Kent , a direct descendant of Martha Carrier, has brought to life a short period of history with a fine mix of well researched facts and creative imagination. Highly recommended particularly to historical fiction readers.

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  1. I've heard lots of great things about this book! I just got this book last week so hopefully I'll be able to read it soon!

  2. I always try to stay about from books like these cos I get so sad when innocent people die :(

  3. Wow, best you've read about the Salem witch trials - that's high praise, I would think. Glad you liked it!

  4. Thanks for the review. I've been wanting to read more about the Salem witch trials, and this book is on my list.

  5. Blodeuedd....yes, it is a bit tough to read. I've never been too good at reading about hangings and torture etc......makes me feel quite ill.

    Mary.....the best is based on the fact that other books focus on the trials......this one helps you to understand what came before and the lives of the people which I found very interesting.

    Jenny/Leanna...hope you enjoy it.

  6. Lovely review! I haven't been this interested in this boko before! I'm going to bump it up in my TBR!

  7. Oh dear. Must read. I hate it when this happens. I've run into a few "cannot avoid" books lately and this appears that it's going to be on of them.

    I was a pagan for sixteen years and while I never did an exhaustive study of the witch trials, there is still a great deal of the story that haunts me in my life as a (Messianic) Christian.

    I'm adding it to the top of my TB and TBR list. Thanks for the review, Cat!

  8. I read this one and while I loved the story line and the facts, I found it moved so slowly in the begining. Glad to see you enjoyed it!

  9. I've been meaning to read this one--thanks for your input and for everyone else's insight, too!