Sunday, 25 October 2009

The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent

September 2009, Pan Books
332 pages, Paperback
Review copy


Cushions: 2
Paperclips: 3
Smiles: 1
Tissues: 4
Yunaleska's recommended rating: ♥♥♥♥

How would you feel if the you promised your mother you would do anything to survive, including betraying her? Is it really a betrayal when she gives you reason to suspect that the accusations could be true? Such is the dilemma facing Sarah in this heart-touching fictional account concerning the Salem trials.

This is a story crammed full of character: after the dismay at leaving her family with her sister when her relatives are isolated thanks to small pox, Sarah Carrier discovers the joys of life in the loving arms of her aunt and uncle. Little did she know that the happiness didn't run to the heart of that family. The resentment she carries when made to return to her true family after the pox has gone, burns inside her, dissipating at the end when she finally realises that although her family life was different to the ideal in her head, she was truly loved. I enjoyed learning how people lived at the time of trials, how they got their food and constantly toiled to survive.

The Salem witch trials was a terrible time to live in. I knew that, but I didn't believe it until I read this book. Even those who weren't condemned immediately suffered horribly. The suffering began long before incarceration: it began with the glances, the looks and the whispered rumours about what a person, usually a woman, might do. Sarah has to put up with this: her family are looked upon with distrust because they good befalls them despite the fact they aren't the most pious ones in the neighbourhood. The day they took the orphan girl Mercy was the day their lives got worse. Mercy isn't a sweet innocent child, and although she leaves Sarah's family, she leaves a lasting impact on their lives.

Watching the levels of distrust in the community grow before the trials occurred, and the goings on within the trials and the aftermath had my heart in my throat. I needed tissues in this one, for the hurt, the betrayal and what happens when mass hysteria overtakes a community. This is a story about humanity, one which made me think about what still happens in areas of this world. Sarah's strength and bravery wavers at times, but it is her family who keep her going as they deal with their mother under suspicion of being a witch. Her family aren't perfect, all their faults are revealed in Sarah's narration. Yet in spite of this they stick together at the end, giving support where they can.

One technique I did enjoy, one that didn't even jar me out of the story was when Sarah's story jumped to her married life. It made sense at that point in the book, and sort of prepares the reader for the horrors to come. I think initially the enormity of the situation probably evaded her, until the sights, smells and feelings were too pungent to resist.

This is a book which is hard to put down - thank goodness I only had to put it down once I'd finished reading.

Kathleen is a descendant of the Carrier family, whose lives are told in The Heretic's Daughter. Her informative website is found here.

Liked this? Try The Lost Book of Salem by Katherine Howe.


Rose Works Jewelry said...

Sounds like a heart wrenching read!

Yunaleska said...

It was. I needed a tissue in several places.

However, it's brilliant because one of my current wips has betrayal in it, so its interesting to see how other authors write about it.