January 25, 2009

The Heretic's Daughter: Review

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The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent has been sitting on my shelf since I won it in Tara's (Books & Cooks) contest a few months ago. I've been wanting to read it for awhile and finally carved out the time for it. It didn't take me long to read it. It's fascinating.

The Heretic's Daughter is actually a letter from Sarah Carrier Chapman to her granddaughter on her wedding day. In it she explains her part in the Salem Witch trials of 1692. Sarah was just 9 years old when the trials begin. Living in the nearby village of Andover, Sarah didn't believe the madness of the trials would touch her life, but like the smallpox the hysteria spreads.

The Puritans had a narrow view of the natural world. Any misfortune was either a punishment from God, or the mischief of the devil- depending on the person's standing in the community. Sarah's family has much going against them. When they arrive in Andover, they inadvertently bring the plague of smallpox with them. A dispute arises over the family's land between Sarah's family and her uncle. Then there is the family themselves. Martha, Sarah's mother, is a hard headed, outspoken woman, and Thomas, her father, is feared by the townspeople because of his dark past. It doesn't take long for rumour to turn nearly everyone against the Carrier's. Martha sees that no one will speak for them so she asks Sarah to tell a lie in order to save the family even if it means a death sentence for Martha.

This isn't just a retelling of the Salem Witch trials. It's a story about mother/daughter relationships and family. Sarah has plenty of pre-teen angst. Her mother is cold and bossy, her dad ignores her, her little sister is a pest, and her brothers are- well, just brothers. When she goes to live with her aunt and uncle, she thinks she's hit the jackpot. They laugh and tell stories. Margaret, her cousin, shares girlish secrets and the two become inseparable. All appears perfect, so when she must return to her family, she finds life unbearable. Mother and daughter butt heads even harder. Things come to a head and Martha warns her, "Loyalty to your family must come first. Loyalty always to your family." When Martha and the children are arrested, Sarah sees what her family is really made of. All they have is each other. Her parents sacrifice everything to save the children's lives.

Kathleen Kent breathes life into people who've been dead for centuries. Even though these are her ancestors, she resists making them into saints. She makes them real, ordinary people, warts and all. The atmosphere of the novel is understandably somber and is sometimes difficult to read. The conditions in the prison are horrendous and the reality is that innocent men, women and children- even pregnant women and babies- had to endure the cramped, filthy conditions because the townspeople believed the ravings of teenaged girls over their own common sense.

The Heretic's Daughter is a must for anyone interested in this time period and the Salem Witch trials.

Highly Recommended.

Thanks Tara!

For the Love of Reading Challenge

Other Reviews:
Nicole @ Linus's Blanket
S. Krishna's Books

18 comments :

  1. I keep seeing this book and wondered if I'd like it. Great review.

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  2. I've got this and haven't read it yet, but I did hear Kathleen Kent on Blog Talk Radio and she's fascinating. I'm glad to see the book's good.

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  3. This sounds like something I would really like. I enjoy historical fiction and the history of the Salem Witch Trials has always fascinated me. Thanks for the great review, Chris!

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  4. Oh dear. Another one for the wish list so I can put it on my TBR shelf. Gee. Thanks.

    LOL - Great review Chris.

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  5. Me too. Another for the tbr. Sigh. Will you please stop writing good reviews about fascinating books!?

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  6. I have this book but haven't got around to it yet. Now I really want to read it!

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  7. Isn't it amazing that this actually happened? Hubby and I went to Salem last October and took a witch trial tour--such a fascinating piece of history. This one was so-so for me, but I'm glad you enjoyed it.

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  8. Great review of a great book. It got a little grim for me, but I still liked it. Can't wait for the next one!

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  9. Oh man...what a great review. I'll be looking for it.

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  10. Kristy- I wondered the same thing.

    Onion- She did a good job, especially for a debut.

    Lit. Feline- It's a fascinating time period.

    J.C.- Sorry about that. You'll have to get me back.

    Teabird- People have to stop writing them. ;)

    Kailana- I think you'd like it, since you like history.

    Trish- That would be something to see. Lucky you!

    Softdrink- Yes, it was quite grim. What a time to have lived! Yikes!

    Bybee- Hope you like it.

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  11. I read the first couple of pages of this a while ago, but then had to send it back to the library. I must remember to reborrow it when I go to the library.

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  12. I've been eying this book for some time but your review made me realize that I've got to read it.

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  13. This one's on my wish list. I'm glad to know you enjoyed it!

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  14. I'm so glad you enjoyed this!

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  15. Wonderful review Chris! A friend sent me her review copy of this book when she was finished and I haven't gotten to it yet. I am really looking forward to it!

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  16. Great review! I've had my eye on this one for awhile.

    --Anna
    Diary of an Eccentric

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  17. I've seen this around and it sounds/looks so good! I hope to be able to get to it one of these days!

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  18. We have read a lot of the same books but I think we might only have this one review in common. Anyway, glad to see you enjoyed this one as much as I did!

    http://www.linussblanket.com/2009/02/the-heretics-daughter-by-kathleen-kent/

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