Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent



The problem with reading a book about the Salem witch trials is that you know how it ends, and you know it is going to end badly. It's like reading a book about the Titanic - you know the boat is going to sink, and even if the characters survive, they're going to get wet.

This was the undercurrent running through the early parts of The Heretic's Daughter. You know, considering the subject, that someone is going to be accused of witchcraft, and with each hurtful remark, each contentious run-in with a neighbor, you can feel it drawing closer. Still, even with a good idea of what was coming (the first chapter is an introductory letter that sets up most of the story), I was glued to the pages. This book had me reading in line at the grocery store, sneaking a few pages on my lunch break, and staying up way past my bedtime.

Author Kathleen Kent is a 10th generation descendent of Martha Carrier, the woman Cotton Mather referred to as "The Queen of Hell". This first-person narrative of the Salem witch trials focuses not on the witches and judges, but on the ordinary people who were swept up in the frenzy. The descriptions of the jail where accused witches were held, the filth and hunger and indignity, were shocking. The cruelty that these so-called religious people displayed was infuriating, but it was even worse to stand with Sarah, rooted on the railroad tracks, watching the train bearing down on her family.

It was easy to forget that at the time of these events, Sarah is only 9 years old. The hard work and responsibility required of her, just for basic survival, is unheard of today, in this country. It is told from the vantage point of an old woman, which accounts for some of the maturity of her voice, but it is still far more than a small child should have to bear.

The Heretic's Daughter is a great read and I strongly recommend it to fans of historical fiction and tales of early America. My copy was an Advance Reader Edition. Buy your copy today at Amazon.com.

2 comments:

sheistoofondofbooks said...

Lisa, I know what you mean, about knowing how it ends (I felt the same way about a Marie-Antoinette book I read earlier in the year). But, if the author is skilled, you kind of "forget" that while reading. I laughed at you reading in line at the store; I do the same thing -- always have a book in the car, my bag, etc.

Lisa said...

Some authors can make you forget, I agree. I think in this case, Kent uses it to her advantage - you can see all of Martha's mistakes in dealing with her neighbors and knowing where this pattern is leading her helps to build tension. Heaven knows, I was cringing every time she raised her voice at someone.

I always have a book with me, but you don't *usually* see me reading in line. A page or two at a time is just a tease. :)