Kathleen Kent’s debut novel tells the story of her ancestor Martha Carrier, hanged as a witch in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692. It is told from the point of view of Martha’s nine year old daughter Sarah, who–with her brothers–was also imprisoned. Sarah and her brothers confessed and were then released; their mother was not so lucky. Less about the trials than the society in which they occurred (the witch trials don’t make an appearance until halfway through the book), it paints a vivid picture of life in late-17th century Massachusetts. As seen through Sarah’s eyes, the harshness, conformity, and cruelty of that life is heartbreaking, but fascinating–I couldn’t put this book down.
For more on this period, I also recommend In the Devil’s Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1892, by Mary Beth Norton, which links the crisis to fears caused by the Indian Wars. Kathleen Kent recommends this on her website, and it’s clear from reading The Heretic’s Daughter that she is sympathetic to Norton’s thesis. Another recent book on this topic is Salem Witch Judge: The Life and Repentance of Samuel Sewall, by Eve LaPlante. LaPlante, a descendant of Samuel Sewall, writes an interesting biography of the only judge presiding over the Salem witchcraft trials who ever repented for his actions, and later wrote essays supporting gender equality, the abolition of slavery, and humane treatment of Native Americans.
RATING: **** Very, very good
Reviewed by: stc
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