Historical fiction has recently become a new love of mine, so recently when a member of the book club that I am in nominated The Heretic’s Daughter by Kathleen Kent I was excited and immediately cast my vote for it. It received the nod and I put it on my Christmas list. I couldn’t wait upon opening it Christmas morning to get started on it.
I read the back of the book again:
In 1752, Sarah Carrier Chapman, weak with infirmity, writes a letter to her granddaughter, revealing the secret she has closely guarded for six decades…
Her story begins more than a year before the Salem witch trials when nine-year-old Sarah and her family arrive in a New England Community already gripped by superstition and fear. As they witness neighbor pitted against neighbor, friend against friend, hysteria escalates- until more than 200 men, women, and children have been swept into prison. Among them is Sarah’s mother Martha Carrier.
In an attempt to protect her children, Martha asks Sarah to commit an act of heresy- a lie that will most surely condemn Martha even as it will save her daughter.
This book would surely feed my fascination and I would learn something about this period of our nation’s history that I really knew nothing about. Eagerly I dug into the book, and…found myself trying to dig my way back out.
I found the book to be very slow moving. I really wanted to know more about Martha Carrier who truly was condemned to hang in August of 1692. The story, though, is more Sarah’s story than Martha’s.
Sarah desribes her parents as dry, harsh, sullen & silent. They do not seem to be a loving or close family. So when they move to her grandmother’s farm in Andover she experiences the gentleness and love from her grandmother that she has been longing for in her hard and unyielding parents.
When smallpox strikes her brother Andrew, Sarah must take refuge with her aunt, uncle, and cousin Margaret in a neighboring village in order to escape the death grip of the disease. She comes to love her sweet aunt, laugh at her uncle’s stories and idolize Margaret so much she does not want to go back to the dourness of her family home, especially after learning her grandmother had fell victim to the dreaded smallpox and has died.
When lies and rumors start to spread about the Carrier family it isn’t long before the whispers and taunts of “witch, witch, witch” start to follow Sarah and her mother. When Martha Carrier hears word she is soon to be arrested she makes her daughter promise that she will tell the townsfolk and the judges whatever they want to hear in order to save her own life- even if it means condemning her mother.
It is finally toward the end of the book that we learn Sarah’s mother and father aren’t as hard and unyielding as Sarah often thought them to be and the sacrifices they make for the sake of their children will tear at your heart. I just wish it hadn’t taken three fourths of the book to bring out the emotion that I thought the book would be rife with from the very beginning.
The author, Kathleen Kent, is a tenth-generation descendent of Martha Carrier and grew up listening to stories about her. Her first novel is well written and researched and I would definitely consider reading another book by Ms. Kent.