Angel and Apostle by Deborah Noyes: Review

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With all the sequels and prequels to classic novels, it's seems inevitable that The Scarlet Letter would tossed in the ring with a follow up entitled Angel and Apostle by Deborah Noyes. Thank goodness Hester Prynne and her daughter Pearl aren't slaying vampires or zombies is all I have to say.

At the end of Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, the narrator tells us that Pearl went on to become a mother herself living in Europe. What Noyes creates is an answer to how she ended up there. Considering her family history, it's hard to imagine it was an easy road.

The story of The Scarlet Letter is shown through Pearl's own eyes, as she watches her enigmatic mother struggle against the cruelty of the villagers. Pearl suffers for her mother's sin; she's friendless and isolated. That is until she meets a blind boy named Simon who becomes her only friend. After the plot of her mother's story unravels, her mother falls apart and Simon's father offers them passage to England and the chance to start again.

In England, Hester (though she is unnamed in this book) gives up her scarlet letter for the sake of Pearl. But Pearl can't escape her family history. Pearl often thinks of her father as the devil, as the villagers told her time and again, and doesn't believe she can be happy. When Simon's brother Nehemiah meets the grown Pearl, he offers her a normal life but will she take it?

I enjoyed much of Angel and Apostle. It is richly written and resembles Hawthorne's own writing style, though Noyes does take a few liberties with the story and things aren't quite the same as The Scarlet Letter. The time period feels authentic as Pearl travels from Puritan New England to Reformation England. Both places are stifling for a woman, especially a woman who is the bastard offspring of a fallen woman.

The characters have their own distinct voices. Hester is as enigmatic as ever, Pearl just as mischievous. The new characters quickly became excellent additions to the story. I especially liked Liza. All the men, however, came across as sulky. (Must be hard to be the rulers of the world and have everything handed to you like it was your due.) They just can't stand that they can own the women's bodies but not their hearts or souls. I can't say I liked even one of the men.

Angel and Apostle has a nice pace but it's not a story I could read quickly. I found had to go over some passages more than once. The meaning is hinted at and I wasn't quick enough to get it right away. Not that it should deter you from reading the book; it deserves to be read slowly.

All in all, it's a nice piece of historical fiction.



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