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Kathleen Kent – The Heretic’s Daughter

November 29, 2008

150. The Heretic’s Daughter by Kathleen Kent (2008)

Length: 334 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction

Started: 28 November 2008
Finished: 29 November 2008

Accused of witchcraft
A young girl and her mother
Must fight for the truth.

Summary: When eleven-year-old Sarah Carrier’s family arrives in Andover, Massachusetts in 1691, they are greeted with fear – are they carrying smallpox?; distrust – Sarah’s mother Martha is too cold, too reserved, and too outspoken with her opinion to be accepted into the community, and Sarah’s father Thomas is similarly withdrawn and secretly feared by the townspeople; and resentment – their possession of Martha’s family’s land is contested by Sarah’s cousin. Sarah doesn’t have the closest or easiest relationship with her mother, but when the witch-hunting hysteria comes to neighboring Salem and her mother is accused of witchcraft, the bonds of love and responsibility that bind her family together are exposed – and sorely tested.

Review: I feel like I’m about the last person on Earth to read this book. And, perhaps as a function of hearing so many people rave about how wonderful it was, how it was the best book they’ve read all year, etc., etc., reading it for myself was ultimately a little bit of a let-down. Don’t get me wrong: it’s a very good book, well-written, interesting, and very absorbing. The story is powerful and gripping, and Kent effectively creates both an appropriate period feel and a pervasive sense of bleak menace throughout. The Salem Witch Trials are one of the darker periods of history, and Kent brings the terror of the time to life while subtly reminding us that we haven’t changed all that much, and the seeds of the witchhunt are still present in today’s society.

But while I liked The Heretic’s Daughter, and am certainly glad I read it, I didn’t *love* it. I thought it could have done with a couple of fewer dream sequences, since by the end they started to feel a bit like a cop-out for creating tension that hadn’t been elicited from the events themselves. Also, the voice of our narrator, so strong and compelling throughout the rest of the book, faltered a bit towards the end, slipping from a personal narrative to a drier recounting of the progress of the Salem Witch Trials. It’s clear that Kent’s done her homework on the period and on her ancestors, but there were points in which the historical details were not woven into the narrative as seamlessly as they could have been. These are relatively minor gripes, however; on the whole, I really enjoyed this book, read it in one day, and will definitely pick up future books by Ms. Kent. 4 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Anyone who considers themselves a historical fiction fan should definitely pick this one up, although knowing something about the Salem Witch Trials beforehand, while not strictly necessary, would definitely help put this book into stronger context.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Books and Cooks, The Book Nest, Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin’?, Presenting Lenore, Reading in Appalachia, Trish’s Reading Nook, Bookish Ruth, Devourer of Books, Literarily, Boston Bibliophile, The Tome Traveller’s Weblog, Fizzy Thoughts, Reading Room, Reader for Life (WHEW!)
Did I miss your review? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: The distance by wagon from Billerica to neighboring Andover is but nine miles.

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14 Comments leave one →
  1. November 29, 2008 6:47 pm

    great review…thanks…this is in my tbr pile

  2. November 29, 2008 7:18 pm

    I’ve got this one to read. I listened to Kathleen Kent on Blog Talk Radio and she is fascinating. Thanks for the review.

  3. November 29, 2008 8:21 pm

    I haven’t read this one, so you were the 2nd to last person on earth who hadn’t read it. ;)

  4. November 29, 2008 8:33 pm

    Nicki, thanks for linking to my review. My feelings were pretty similar to yours. I really liked it but not QUITE as much as others did.

  5. November 29, 2008 11:56 pm

    Thanks for linking to my review. I really enjoyed this one — it’s definitely in my top 5 for the year — but I’m glad that I hadn’t read many reviews before I’d read it. It sets my expectations too high sometimes if all I see are glowing reviews. (The reverse is also true, if I see something that’s getting poor reviews, my expectations are often lowered to the point that it’s not hard to surpass them.)

  6. November 30, 2008 10:49 am

    Serena – It’s worth moving up in the pile – it’s a quick, if not necessarily particularly light read.

    bermudaonion – I remember seeing those links to Kathleen Kent’s interviews, but I didn’t want to listen to them before I’d read the book. I’ll have to go check them out now.

    Michele – Heh, okay, second to last. The “other reviews” section was about four times as long as normal, though.

    Shana – I remember seeing your review and appreciating the more balanced opinion! I guess overall I wound up thinking that while it was a very solid and well-done piece of historical fiction, it just didn’t bowl me over the way it seemed to do to others.

    Ruth – I don’t know if I’ve ever had other reviews “under-set” my expectations, but that might be because if something’s getting widely panned, I’m pretty unlikely to pick it up. :)

  7. November 30, 2008 12:49 pm

    Fantastic review Fyrefly! And thanks for the link, too!

  8. November 30, 2008 6:40 pm

    Carey – Thanks! And I’m always happy to share the bloggy love.

  9. December 1, 2008 9:10 pm

    Yeah, I know what you mean about hype. I’m that way about movies too – sometimes my expectations for something are so high that even though it may be really great, I still find myself disappointed. I’m glad it wasn’t a total loss though :) Oh, and thanks for the link, friend :)

  10. December 2, 2008 2:35 pm

    Corrine – I think I’m going to contradict what I said in my response to Ruth’s comment – I actually have had bad reviews “underset” my expectations for a movie, so I wound up enjoying it. (Of course, it works the other way, too.)

  11. December 3, 2008 7:23 pm

    I haven’t read this yet either, like Michele so you’re only about the third last person to have read it, tops. :D

  12. December 5, 2008 12:52 pm

    icedtea – Heh, okay, okay, everybody can be the last person on earth to not have read this yet. :)

  13. December 8, 2008 11:25 pm

    I didn’t love this one either and was a little disappointed. The subject is definitely fascinating, but I agree that the history wasn’t woven as neatly into the story (or visa versa) as it could have been. The second half of the book seemed a little forced and heavy handed to me? Oh well! :)

  14. December 9, 2008 9:29 am

    Trish – I guess it’s hard to tell the story of what’s happening in the wider world from the perspective of someone who’s in jail? And the story would have felt incomplete without the broader social/historical context too. Oh well, I guess that’s why we have The Crucible.

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