I had no idea what this book was about. It was a selection for a book club I am in. I loved it! I knew very little about the Salem Witch Trials and this book opened my eyes! The torture of men as well as women accused of witchery based on flimsy testimony was horrible. The lives that were affected and the lengths people would go to accuse or save others was unreal. If you are the least bit interested or ignorant of these times, you will gain much from this book!
The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent is a stunner of a debut novel.
Kent is a descendant of Martha Carrier who was hung as a witch during the Salem Witch Trials.
She takes Martha's story and tells it through the eyes of Martha's daughter Sarah, who was forced to testify against her mother and confess to witchcraft at the age of eight. The book is an incredibly powerful historical novel with plenty of accuracy along with dynamic characters.
Sarah (who in the book is a bit older than the real child) lives a hard life working beside her taciturn parents and three older brothers on their hardscrabble farm. She is responsible for caring for her one-year old sister Hannah when the two are forced to live with her aunt and uncle during an outbreak of smallpox in the home. Her aunt and uncle are loving and friendly and Sarah's hard heart slowly blossoms under their care. This only hardens her heart even further toward her mother when she's returned to them several months later. But things are changing in their Andover, Massachusetts home. Witches have been discovered in Salem, and whispers and rumors are sweeping the countryside like wildfire. Kent carefully lays the case for Martha's charge of witchcraft: a jealous nephew, an angry neighbor, a humiliated serving girl. Each person becomes a strand in the noose around Martha's neck.
Kent does a masterful job of portraying the suspicion and dread as more and more neighbors are arrested, including Sarah's kind uncle, who isn't who she thought he was. She makes a promise to her mother that both imprisons and frees Sarah.
The descriptions of the horror of the jails the accused (including infants and small children) inhabited are unspeakable, and yet Sarah endures to learn what real love is. Of her mother's quiet, unfathomable, deep, unspoken love versus the shallow, easy, uncomplicated love of her aunt and uncle, Sarah learns which one stands in the face of adversity and so Sarah learns to stand and love as well.
The ending alludes to a secret story in Sarah's father's past, one I hope Kent tackles with her next book. This book will change the way history remembers the Salem Witch Trials when seen through the eyes of a child.
Quietly amazing -- that's how it should be phrased.
How incredible to read the story of Thomas and Martha Carrier and their family during the Salem Witch Trials, written by a descendant of this couple. It takes a while to build up, which I must admit, at first I urgently wanted it to pick up a bit, but once it did, I understood why the story moved slowly at the beginning. It built up your awareness to this family's story and then to the trials; the style of writing truly gives you the feeling of living in this time frame.
When you start to read this, be patient. It does move faster after it has set the stage for how much it will blow you away with each startling page of the cruelty in the Salem Witch Trials, the ridiculousness of the mass hysteria, and the squalor that the prisoners had to live in, from toddlers to aging great-grandmothers. You will not be disappointed by the descriptions and the fluidity of each written word.
I never knew too much about the Salem Witch trials until I read this book. Fascinating account of the superstitious destruction of so many families. It started a little slow, but picked up toward the middle and I couldn't put it down. A must read for folks interested in American historical fiction (with a great deal of history).
I found this a very satisfying read. I didn't find it got off to a slow start, rather that it established the rhythms of the time and gave us a good description of a typical life during this era. This start explained how the hysteria of the time was allowed to continue. I enjoyed this book and it spooked me for days to come