Tuesday, 2 June 2009

HISTORICAL FICTION REVIEW: The Heretic's Daughter - Kathleen Kent


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. Like her mother, young Sarah Carrier is bright and wilful, openly challenging the small, brutal world in which they live.In this startling novel, she narrates the story of her early life in Andover, near Salem. Her father is a farmer, English in origin, quietly stoical but with a secret history. Her mother is a herbalist, tough but loving, and above all a good mother. Often at odds with each other, Sarah and her mother have a close but also cold relationship, yet it is clear that Martha understands her daughter like no other. When Martha is accused of witchcraft, and the whisperings in the community escalate, she makes her daughter promise not to stand up for her if the case is taken to court. As Sarah and her brothers are hauled into the prison themselves, the vicious cruelty of the trials is apparent, as the Carrier family, along with other innocents, are starved and deprived of any decency, battling their way through the hysteria with the sheer willpower their mother has taught them.


A novel based on a true family history as the descendent writes about the horrors and trials that her ancestors went through during the Witch hunts in the America’s. The tale whilst well written had lack of emotional context for the reader and whilst it would have made an excellent family history for the author, it was filled with everything from the town’s market gossip through to mundane information. Obviously, a great deal of research must have gone into the story but as a reader I was less than thrilled as it didn’t deliver what I was expecting, that kick in the gut. Whilst I was horrified by the treatment of the entire family as well as the death of the family’s mother it really didn’t deliver what was promised although nuggets of information did come through that I didn’t realise such as the family billing for jail time etc. As a social history it might have made an interesting novel more on a factual basis including the treatment of all the supposed witches in the area but as a singular offering it lacked flair, it lacked punch and it lacked heart. A great shame as it promised so much.

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