Monday 2 May 2011

The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent

That people were actually imprisoned and killed for allegedly being witches, that people actually believed in the charges they were throwing around is something that I have always found hard to get to grips with.  How can you actually believe that the Devil asks women to sign his book or that a woman can fly?  The Heretic's Daugher answers these questions by arguing the case for maliciousness and revenge, as well as paranoia and hysteria.

The book is narrated by ten year old Sarah Carrier (a real historical figure), who is sent to live with her aunt and uncle in Billerica during an outbreak of plague.  On her return to Andover (near Salem), she finds that her family is unpopular in their community.  Proud and rebellious, when allegations of witchcraft break out in Salem, Sarah's mother soon finds herself accused.  And it's not long before Sarah and the rest of the family are caught up in the hysteria and accusations in Salem.

This book was another slow-burner; it started with lots of description of family life and routines in 17th century America, which was interesting for me as I knew little about it, and the seeds of the charges that were to come were planted only slowly by Kent.  A cow that Martha Carrier returns to it's owner dies a few days later.  The Carriers turn out a worker for having sex with their son and she swears revenge.  Some of the other girls start to dislike Sarah.

The pace changes dramatically after the first accusations are made, which I think was a clever narrative device and shows how quickly lives were changed and ended and accusations took on a life of their own.  The descriptions of Sarah in prison showed the squalor, filth and destitution of it in ways that were glossed over in other books like Witch Child and The Crucible.  One thing that hit me was the part where one of the prisoners is finally found to be innocent, but can not be released as she can't afford to pay for the months she has spent in prison.

I found The Heretic's Daughter to be well written and hard to put down.  Kent had obviously completed lots of historical research and really did bring the period to life.  The only part I didn't enjoy concerned Sarah's father.  Throughout the book there was lots of hints of him having a mysterious early life and being somehow involved with Cromwell and the English Civil War but when we finally learned his 'secret', it didn't live up to the hype.  It should either have been better developed, or completely left out.

Verdict: Fascinating portyral of mass hysteria during the Salem witch trials, well worth a read.
Score: 4 out of 5


  1. I really liked the perspective in this one - as well as the attention to details that you mentioned. I found it very fascinating too that Carrier was actually an ancestor of Kent. I can only assume that the association really helped her write such empathetic characters.

  2. I find that difficult to believe too and I'm fascinated by the Salem Witch Trials. I think I'm going to read Witch Child by Celia Rees soon to find out more about them. I'm glad you liked it!

    Oh and your wedding dress sounds so pretty! You must be so happy that Kate bought sleeves back into style :)

  3. It's really shocking that people could be so cruel, not to mention, believe such a tale. However, we've seen that it happened over and over again throughout history. Perhaps events that occur now will seem just as far-fetched in the distant history. I've read other reviews of this novel- and one thing is clear- I have to get this book. I recently become enamored with historical fiction, and this sounds like a perfect title to add to my collection. Glad to see that you loved it!

  4. Would you say it pairs with The Crucible? I teach 11th grade and I am wondering if this would be a good fit to suggest they read with it.

  5. Glad you like it =)
    I too find it hard to make sense on the events surrounding the Salem witch trials.

  6. @Stephanie - Witch Child is a really great book, but I wasn't a big fan of the sequel Sorceress.

    @Beth - I agree, I think our history will seem as uncomprehensible to future generations. Hope you enjoy The Heretic's Daughter.

  7. Ooh, this sounds really interesting. Good thing, I have you to suggest me the more historical non-fantasy books :D

  8. So glad you enjoyed this one! One of my favorite books and authors. Kathleen Kent is also a direct descendent of Martha Carrier, Sarah's mother, so it made it absolutely fascinating. I think you'd enjoy reading The Wolves of Andover since it is actually the "prequel" if you will, to The Heretic's Daughter. This was published after, but it takes place before, and you do find out the real story behind Martha and Tom's relationship (and Tom's past with Cromwell) and it is all really quite heartbreaking. I loved both of her books and can't wait for more!

  9. @Coffee and a Book Chick - ah, I'm glad we do find out more about Tom's past, as it was a bit of a let-down. I'll look out for The Wolves of Andover.