I occasionally hop on my soapbox and rave about historical fiction, because I think it’s the greatest thing for the study of history since DWMs (dead white males) lost their dominion over the subject. Whenever someone mentions Lisa See I always blather on about how I learn so much more from her books than any old stuffy historical text. I feel the same way about C.W. Gortner’s The Last Queen. And now, I can add Kathleen Kent to my list of authors that do an exceptional job of evoking the mood and feel of a time period.
The Heretic’s Daughter is the story of the Carrier family, and their life in Andover, Massachusetts in the late 1600’s, the period of the infamous Salem Witch Trials. Sarah Carrier is our young narrator, and her world is bleak and hard. Her family struggles to work the land, survive smallpox, and deal with judgmental neighbors and avaricious family members. Added to this is the constant scrutiny by the community, particularly the religious leaders. Everyone is expected to attend Sunday meeting, and failure to attend is not looked favorably upon. Because the Carrier family is considered troublesome (they are accused of bringing smallpox to Andover), and because a brother-in-law believes they have usurped family land that belongs to him, and because a former servant carries a grudge, and because Sarah’s mother, Martha, doesn’t always hold her tongue, the family is accused of witchcraft.
While this book is a fictional account of the Carrier family, there is no escaping the fact that Martha Carrier was in fact found guilty of being a witch. She was hung on August 19, 1692. Martha is to be admired for speaking out against her accusers, for which Cotton Mather labeled her a “rampant hag.” I’ll refrain from hopping on my other soapbox and talking about men who feel threatened by strong women.
While I loved the book, it was not easy to read. In fact, I stopped reading it for about a week, as the world of the Puritans was just too grim. However, after I saw the author speak at the Book Group Expo, I picked the book back up and finished it in what seemed like no time.
Kathleen Kent is currently working on her second novel, which will tell the story of Thomas Carrier, Sarah’s father…who was supposedly the executioner of Charles I of England.
To read more about The Heretic’s Daughter, as well as the author and her connection to Martha Carrier, check out this website.