Friday, March 11, 2011

The Heretic's Daughter - Kathleen Kent

Summary:  Martha Carrier was one of the first women to be accused, tried and hanged as a witch in Salem, Massachusetts. Like her mother, young Sarah Carrier is bright and willful, openly challenging the small, brutal world in which they live. Often at odds with one another, mother and daughter are forced to stand together against the escalating hysteria of the trials and the superstitious tyranny that led to the torture and imprisonment of more than 200 people accused of witchcraft. This is the story of Martha's courageous defiance and ultimate death, as told by the daughter who survived. (Summary taken from author's website)
My Review:  I'll cut to the chase and say that although I did not like the first half of this book the second half made reading through it worth it.  The first half was too raw, mean and salacious*.  It left me feeling mean, which I don't really need in my life.  I just have a hard time with the portrayal of the 1600s as such a glum, hypocritical and hardscrabble world.  Was it?  I don't know.  Do you know?  No.  So lets not assume that all life in this century was callous and unkind.

With the second half of the book I was drawn in, the characters became more caring and human, rather than the carnal portrayal that the book began with.  And of course, this could have been purposeful, as the daughter began to grow up (because of the dreadful circumstances she was in) she could see a greater dimension to her mother, to life in general and therefore I, as the reader also became aware of it.  This was accomplished so well that when I finished the book I was willing to dismiss the beginning and say that I enjoyed the reading.  

I recently read The Year of Wonder set in 1666 (this was set in 1692) which dealt with many of the same issues in this book.  Greed, superstition, sexism among the similar topics.  And frankly, both had that sort of glum bias against the century, which perhaps it deserves (bubonic plague in one and witch trials in the other). However I thought that The Heretic's Daughter handled the issues more realistically and in a way more applicable to the here and now.  The story explained well how something like the Salem witch trials could come about in that time and place.

The book took a broader view (culturally and geographically) than what I remember The Crucible focusing on, which is really the only other witch trials book I've read.   Despite my living in and loving the town the trials took place (because that should mean I automatically know everything) I ended up spending a lot of time on wikipedia and other reference sites brushing up on my history.  There was definitely some literary license taken and it was done in a way that told the story "better" than it might have been told. 

A final note.  What is with authors' lately taking a pass when it comes to naming their books?  Please, no more wife/daughter titles.  Nothing relegates a book to being viewed as "for women only" than a title like that.  Give your book credit as having a broad appeal by naming it better.  (FYI, Kathleen Kent's next book is titled The Wolves of Andover.  A big improvement.)

My Rating:  4 stars.  

To Sum it Up:  An examination of one family embroiled in a tragedy for human-kind that deserves an audience beyond women's book clubs.

*Salacious is apparently my new favorite word as I used it in this review, and this one.  Authors, let it be known - although not as bad manipulating me, feeding me salacious details is a waste of my time.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this great review.

Gerbera Daisy Diaries said...

One of my favorites, but I've yet to read the sequel (or prequel, as it is).

Tribute Books said...

Thanks for this review. I read "The Wolves of Andover" and was contemplating this one, but I think I'll pass on it now.


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