The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent

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The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Elaine Dingsdale
Reviewed by Elaine Dingsdale
Summary: A stunning novel following the tragedies which befell one family at the appalling and tragic events of the Salem witch trials, in 17th century America.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 400 Date: January 2009
Publisher: Macmillan
ISBN: 978-0230704435

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In the last decade of the seventeenth century and just a matter of months before the Salem Witch trials began, the Carrier family moved to Andover, Massachusetts hoping to leave a smallpox epidemic behind them. They were not to know that they were taking the infection with them or the danger they were facing.

The first half of the novel depicts life in the 1690s in rural America, concentrating particularly on the Carrier family and their immediate relatives. There is a wealth of detail concerning their day-to-day living and tribulations faced, and this alone could have been an interesting novel in its own right. But add to this the growing unease and gathering storm, of the impending prosecutions and executions, which we know will decimate the family, then we truly have a novel of epic proportions.

Quite simply, this is one of the best books I have read in recent months. What makes it all the more stunning are two factors: firstly it's the author's first novel, and secondly it is based on real events in her own family. Both of these factors add a gripping edge to the plot, and offer the reader an empathy with the characters, which at times moved me to tears.

The early part of the novel sees the Carrier family separated-recently having moved to escape the plague of smallpox, they are devastated when it transpires that one of their sons is already infected. The two young girls are sent for safety to their nearby Aunt, and some of the most touching scenes are to be found in these chapters. Hitherto lonely and alone, Sarah, (the 10 year old protagonist), forms a close bond with her cousin, and is amazed at the overall closeness of her relatives' lives: this emphasises by contrast to her own stricter upbringing. Indeed Sarah's parents appear aloof and almost uncaring by comparison. However, as the novel progresses ,we see the true depth of feeling that both parents have not only for their children but for each other - to the extent that Martha goes willingly to her death to save her family. Robust and powerful themes, which the author handles with in depth emotion and skill.

The second part of the novel deals with the trials and the executions. A large section is devoted to the time that the family spent imprisoned. The details were so vivid that it was extremely easy to picture - Kent is simply stunning in the descriptive passages, and brings the fetid and appalling world alive in an absolutely riveting manner. The outcome is clear from the outset - and indeed from the inscription on the cover - a mother condemned by the truth, a daughter saved by a lie. Nonetheless, the novel had the pace of a thriller - although we know the outcome, we just have to read on as quickly as possible in the hope that there may be a twist in the plot towards the end. So engrossed was I when reading it that I woke up at 4am one morning thinking about it… so just had to turn the light on and read some more!

What particularly appealed to me were the characters - each and every one was portrayed in a most satisfying manner. From the 10 year old narrator, through the entire cast, each character has its own voice, and are brought to life most convincingly. The relationships and interplay between the characters are also very well handled. The entire cast complement one another - the brutality and spitefulness of the accussers serves to underline the true horror of the innocent victims condemned to inhumane imprisonment, and their ultimate destiny. Even the minor characters are brought to life in a few words - they may only inhabit the pages briefly, but they leave a lingering impression.

Kent's prowess with words and with descriptive passages is first class. At times she relies rather heavily on metaphors - but even those have a freshness and originality, which lends the novel an almost poetic air and feel.

Clearly the author put a huge amount of work and research into this wonderful book, and it shines through. Whether describing the trials and executions, raids on the local communities by the Indians, the vagaries of the climate and the resultant food shortages, Kent goes into a depth of detail which taught me a huge amount. I found the novel worked extremely well on so many different levels, and is one of the few books which I would consider re-reading in the future. Considering I have never (knowingly), re-read a book, then I can think of no higher praise.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If this book appeals then we think that you might enjoy Cross Stitch by Diana Gabaldon.

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Buy The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent at

Buy The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent at


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