The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent is one of the best novels I've read this year; certainly in the top five. The fact that Kent is a descendent of the Carriers adds an emotional connection to the story that makes the account even more personal.
Sarah Carrier, the ten year old narrator of the story, lives with her parents Thomas and Martha, along with three brothers and a younger sister Hannah. They live a bleak existence on a small farm near Salem. Kent's ability to bring the toughness of these people to the forefront is interesting, though I think letting Sarah be the narrator limits the impact of the story for the reader. Still, the novel moves quickly with crisp prose and a well rounded plot. There is an element of terror in the pages of The Heretic's Daughter. Knowing that others may be conspiring against you with rumors and innuendo, half truths, and out and out lies may be vaguely familiar to some of the readers. The insanity of it all is that those in charge, those who are relied upon for leadership and for guidance in living our lives, have given up reason and submitted blind fear and in doing so removes Sarah's ability to defend her self.
The Heretic's Daughter is also a story about love. One can't always judge by exterior signs the depth of love and devotion people have for each other. This is especially true in the love between a mother and daughter.
Most readers are familiar with the Salem witch trials of 1692, though having an intimate knowledge of the historical facts isn't required to enjoy The Heretic's Daughter. In fact, having only a sketchy understanding might be an asset.
I found The Heretic's Daughter to be an engaging and worthwhile read.
on September 3, 2008
I was intrigued with the idea of this book but once I got it I wasn't sure I wanted to read it. It is a period in history that doesn't particular interest me. For some reason, however, possibly because Martha Carrier was a real woman, hanged as a witch at Salem, I picked this book up then read for the sheer enjoyment of Kathleen Kent's writing.
An introductory letter, penned in 1752, is from Sarah Carrier Chapman to a granddaughter, giving her the document about the witch trials. Sarah, Martha Carrier's daughter, wants her to understand her family and what really happened.
The language of this book is lyrical yet simple, reflecting the lives of the people living in New England in the 1690s; bound by the seasons, the hard work of a farm, and the religious prejudices and fears.
The setting is Andover, near Salem, in the time period 1691-1693. We learn of Sarah's early life and of her family and the strife between her family and that of her aunt and uncle. We experience Martha's trial, the tribulations of the prisons, the deaths of the people accused of being witches, and the freeing of the children and ultimately the freeing of the rest of the accused. There is a last chapter that carries us through 1735 and tells what happened to some of Sarah's family members and neighbors.
It is amazingly well written and flows beautifully. The characters are vividly drawn. Sarah reveals in anecdotes the traits that eventually earn her mother a place on the hanging tree - her intelligence, her assertiveness, her unwillingness to lie and give in, her strength of conviction and will. Martha Carrier was an admirable woman. So, too, is Sarah.
I highly recommend this book to anybody interested in Puritan America, the witch trials of Salem, and farm life in the late 17th century. It is very good historical fiction.
on August 29, 2008
The Heretic's Daughter tells the story of the Salem witch trials from the perspective of 10-year-old Sarah Carrier, whose family becomes a target of her community's hysteria. Kent's unadorned prose captures the immediacy and emotion of Sarah's story and evokes an authentic setting by using old-fashioned phrases and metaphors drawn from familiar tasks (scything grass, harvesting wheat) and materials (beeswax, homespun cloth) of the era. The quick-moving plot and well-developed characters make this an easy book to get caught up in.
Because Sarah is a young narrator, she doesn't fully understand the horrible events unfolding around her. This perspective adds an agreeable innocence to the tale, but also creates a bit of distance between the action and the reader's experience of the action. As a narrator, Sarah is incapable of stepping back from the events at hand and considering the frightening implications of those events for human society in general. Overall, The Heretic's Daughter is a heartbreaking story well told.
"The Heretic's Daughter", the debut novel of author Kathleen Kent is a gripping piece of historical fiction weaved in with fact. The story centers around the Carrier family and is narrated by 10-year-old Sarah Carrier whose family is made up of father Thomas, mother Martha, brothers Richard, Andrew and Tom and little sister Hannah. Sarah's relationship with her mother is fraught with tension and hostility as Sarah yearns for a more empathetic and outwardly loving mother, whereas Martha Carrier is a strong woman who takes care of her family, but is not prone to outward shows of affection.
The Carrier family move from their homestead in Billerica to Martha's mother's farm in Andover, and when Andrew Carrier contracts smallpox, the family is quarantined and Sarah and Hannah are covertly smuggled over to the home of Marha's sister and her family. Sarah comes to love her aunt and uncle and forms an especially close friendship with her kindred spirit, Margaret, a little girl around her own age. Their open displays of affection contrast sharply with Sarah's own family and she is reluctant to leave when the time comes. Unbeknown to Sarah, all is not as it seems and there are much greater tensions and animosity between her own family and her uncle's.
At the same time, strange and disturbing events begin to unfold in Salem Village, with a group of young girls going into fits, and accusing others of witchcraft. Trials are convened and many innocent victims are wrongly accused of practising the Devil's work, all at the whim of the young girls. In Andover, Sarah finds her own family being suspected of unholy alliances, especially given Martha Carrier's sharp tongue and rebellious nature. When Martha is arrested on the accusation of practising witchcraft, Sarah is forced to do the unthinkable in order to preserve her own life.
The narrative flows smoothly as the events unfold - from the day-to-day description of life amongst the Puritans, to the unsettling accusations and repercussions on the Carrier family and the settlers in general. The descriptions of farm life are vivid and paint a harsh life for the Puritans. Domestic life too is portrayed as being dreary with cramped living conditions etc. Spiritual life is also described in great detail with attendance at church or 'meeting house' being deemed a social necessity in order to keep one's good standing amongst the community, though politics play an integral part here with the 'good' pastor vs 'diabolical' pastor portrayed credibly.
Family ties is a central theme in this book, especially in exploring the relationship between daughter and mother. Sarah and Martha Carrier are both strong-willed, independent-minded individuals and their tenuous relationship is very well-portrayed - the mother seemingly harsh yet possessed of a great love for her children, and the daughter unrelenting in thinking the worst of her mother until events prove otherwise.
The witch trials themselves are compelling - the author has done her research well and readers get a clear picture of the miscarriage of justice during the trials, the pathetic living conditions of the accused [in prison], and of the politics and corruption underlying the trials and treatment of prisoners.
This is an excellent piece of historical fiction centred around an infamous period of American history, peopled with characters that are compelling, some we come to care about, and others are plain repulsive. Kathleen Kent has done a wonderful job of bringing the period to life and I look forward to her next effort with great anticipation. Also, for those who would like to delve deeper into the Salem Witch Trials, I would highly recommend "The Salem Witch Trials: A Day by Day Chronicle of a Community Under Siege" by Marilynne K. Roach and " A Break with Charity: A Story about the Salem Witch Trials" by Ann Rinaldi [YA novel].
on August 19, 2008
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.
on August 30, 2008
As other reviewers have already outlined, this book takes place during the Salem Witch Trials, and the author is a tenth-generation descendant of Martha Carrier, one of the first women to be tried under the trials. The book is told from the perspective of her pre-adolescent daughter Sarah.
The author has done her research, and she does a beautiful job of depicting the harsh realities of life during this time, including plagues, crop failures, and attacks by indigenous tribes. This harshness is partly what fuels the trials' momentum, as a fearful community struggles with the causes of their suffering. Surely there must be some offense, some sin, that God is punishing them for? In their desperation, they seek out the 'sinners' amongst them, literally demonizing their own neighbors for the smallest of offenses. They seek to scapegoat and purge - as so many have done in the name of religion throughout history.
From there, the paralysis of fear takes over, with each new charge silencing more people within the community, all seeking to protect their own lives and families. Children as young as four are taken into custody - since the 'devil' is behind it all, and can take over anyone's mind, no one is considered innocent. Quite the contrary, during the trials the defendants are most definitely considered guilty until proven innocent. And their innocence is in the hands of several hysterical, adolescent girls no less (I'll let you read the book to learn more about this.)
One of the most touching aspects of the book is how Martha gets Sarah to save herself, helping Sarah to realize that behind her mother's stern exterior lies the greatest of maternal loves. While Sarah at first despises her mother's difficult personality, wishing she would just capitulate to others, she comes to realize her mother's seeming obstinance is actually born of tremendous faith and wisdom. This is exactly the opposite of what her community elders teach - that strict obedience is the foundation for faith. As Sarah observes, that obedience, along with fear, is what allows the madness to continue for so long.
And so The Heretic's Daughter works on at least three levels. First, as a gripping historical novel that masterfully depicts a certain setting and time period. Second, as a personal story of a mother and adolescent daughter struggling to understand each other. And third, as a cautionary tale about how religion can be twisted when a society is ruled by fear.
on August 19, 2008
I've always been fascinated with the era of the Salem Witch Trials and the people involved. In "The Heretic's Daughter" Kathleen Kent tells the story of a survivor of the trials, one of her ancestors, Sarah Carrier. Sarah is 11 years old when she and her mother are accused of witchcraft. Martha Carrier, Sarah's mother, is one of the few accused who refused to compromise the truth. She held up under torture and never confessed to witchcraft.
Kent tells a quiet but powerful story of a distressing time in American history and a family that rises above their tragedy.
I really enjoyed this book and look forward to reading others by this author. My one disappointment in the book is the lack of notes. I can tell that the author has done lots of research for this book, and I'd love to know her sources. However, my copy is an uncorrected proof. Maybe a notes section will be included in the finished volume.
on January 15, 2010
This was a book I was so excited to get into. I had heard so many good things about it and the topic of the Salem Witch Trials was one I was interested in knowing more about. It surprised me when I struggled through the first half of the book. It was heavily filled with information about life in the 1600's. The action and information about the trials took so long to get to that I found myself wanting to put the book down and be done with it.
Once I made it through the first half and the information started to come out about Martha Carrier the book picked up significantly. I was shocked and saddened how the trials came to be. The evidence, or lack there of... really drove the story home for me. The women that died during this trial was heartbreaking and the knowledge I was hoping to gain from this book about the trials was slow coming, but eventually made its appearance.
The Salem Witch Trials prior to this book were just something I had heard of but I really had no idea. What a sad time in our history.
on October 14, 2010
Given all the positive reviews here and the excitement of events Kathleen Kent writes about, I was disappointed in this novel. It was not well-written. Kent has never met a simile she doesn't love; she overuses the device to the point of distraction. I kept wondering how many I'd encounter on each page instead of enjoying the reading. Although Sarah is 10, the author gave her a voice of an older girl, so I found the main character unbelievable. And, except for her relationships with the girls who taunted her, I thought all of Sarah's relationships were flat and not well-developed. Since her relationships with her mother and father are key to the story, this was a big flaw in the writing. Finally, the story pacing was odd. It took forever to get to the witchcraft trials, they were over too quickly, then the prison chapters dragged on too long.
The one thing that saved my giving the book only one-star was that Kent provided good background for the fear that led up to the Salem Witch trials (smallpox, tribal conflicts, poverty and famine).
Let me be clear on this rating. I do not love this book. It is too soft of a word for what I feel for this book. This book is not cute nor is it lovable. It is thought-provoking and it is scary. It is also horrifying when one reads about the witchcraft trials that happened just over 400 years ago. It is sad. It is hopeful. It is innocence ripped away from a young child's eyes. It is everything that a serious reader wants to read about and it is inspirational in the sense that I want to read more about the Salem witchcraft trials just because how can a group of young women pull the wool over men's eyes? How can these judges condemn all these people to death just over a few women's silly patterings?
Love this book? No. I like it very much that I want to have my two book clubs read it so I can discuss it with all of my heart because it is a worthy book of discussion. The storyline flowed seamlessly. Ms. Kent took one story out of her ancestors' lives and shaped a wonderful novel around the events that shaped the rest of the family's lineage. She took a young girl who was suddenly thrust into a world of confusion where madness seems to rule and how people lost their reasons. I am not quite sure how to explain this but it is a novel that every serious reader must read. It is about a young girl who was sent away temporarily to live with her mother's sister and her family while the family battled smallpox. When she returned home, Sarah found that everything has changed. Her beloved grandmother died during the illness and because the family brought smallpox with them as they moved into the grandmother's house, the townsfolk of Andover looked upon them with suspicion. Sarah's mother, a big woman who seems to be unfazed by people and her father, a tall man with a terrible reputation that proceeds him, just attract notorious attention to wherever they go. When the witchcraft trials started getting more attention, the local residents started to point fingers at Sarah's mother.
This is a novel about a young girl forced to grow up wiser beyond her years. It is about a family torn apart by the accusations of neighbors and how they found each other again. It is about grief. It is about love between a parent and a child. It is about surviving. It is about how two parents fighting to keep their children alive even though one may lose life in the process. It is about friendship, family relations and greed, resentment and how dishonesty tears a town apart.
I know next-to-nothing about the Salem witchcraft trials. After reading this novel, I am more intrigued with the whole situation because of all those innocent people being sent to death on a whim. How did that happen? Why did that happen? This book only served to make me more interested about a time period that I know nothing of. And in my opinion, this author has done a great job with her first novel. She has inspired me to read more on a subject I know nothing about. It is rare when I find an author who does that. So, Ms. Kent is on my list of inspirational authors. She has made her novel educational and at the same time, evoked emotions and thoughts that I didn't expect from this book.
I recommend that if you're a history buff, this novel would be a great place to start. Even if you're not a history buff, this novel offers so many other things to ponder on. This is just a rare novel that offers so much for all readers to enjoy.