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My mum passed this on to me to read and I really enjoyed it! I probably wouldn't have come across it myself to be honest but I'm glad I did!
This is a historical fiction book inspired by the events of Salem in the seventeenth century. The book is told through the eyes of Sarah from childhood till death and the dramatic and powerful events she becomes entangled in.
I have always had a fascination towards the witch trials of the past and the Salem situation was known quite well to me through studying the trials at school through the excellent, 'The Crucible'by Arthur Miller. I also enjoyed the depiction of the hard day to day life of these puritan settlers and the book paints their quite bleak existence well, not shirking on the day to day hardships in favour of the more obvious main storyline of the witch trials.
Most importantly it offers us an insight to how these situations can actually occur throughout history and how easily mass hysteria,brutality,fear and paranoia can sweep through even the most rational and civilised communities when exposed to tremendous hardship.
This book had been lying on my bookshelf for a few months before I actually read it. It has a fairly uninspiring cover comprising mainly neutral and grey colours, and therefore I put it aside for a time when I had nothing to read. I didn't even read the blurb properly! Talk about judging a book by its cover! Anyway, it was only when I read a review about it that I remembered I even had the book, and so, inspired by its good ratings, I decided to give it a go. And in my opinion, it was a wise decision!
The Heretic's Daughter is a book set in America at the end of the 17th century, when English settlers had been occupying the 'New England' for over a hundred years. Back in Old England, the English Civil War had been and gone, and many Puritans who had fought for Cromwell had moved over to America in order to start a new life. One such man was Thomas Carrier, formerly a Welshman, now living in Andover, Massachusetts with his wife, three sons and two daughters. When smallpox hits the Carrier family, however, little Sarah and Hannah Carrier have to move to their Uncle Roger's house to lessen the risk of them catching the disease. Sarah is just nine and Hannah is a baby. While at Uncle Roger's house, Sarah strikes up a close friendship with her cousin, Margaret, who is of a similar age. They become inseparable, and Sarah almost worships her. Meanwhile, baby Hannah forms a close bond with her Aunt Mary.
Inevitably, though, the time must come when Sarah and Hannah must go back to their family, and four months later their father comes to fetch them. Sarah is distraught that she must go back, and blames the fact on her mother. Sarah and Martha Carrier had never had a close relationship; in fact at times it seemed that Sarah's mother seemed totally disinterested in her. Martha Carrier was known for being a gifted herbalist and an outspoken woman with strong beliefs.
Andover, the place where the Carriers lived, was very close to the village of Salem. Soon after Sarah comes back from her Uncle's house, tales come of delirious girls accusing villagers of witchcraft. It doesn't take long for the accusations to spread to Andover, and Martha's refusal to conform strictly to society's restraints means that the Carrier family becomes a target for accusations of witchcraft. And refusal to confess to witchery is usually followed by death by hanging.
The novel is narrated from Sarah's point of view. It begins with a letter from Sarah dated 1752, in which she looks back on the Salem Witch Trials and describes her experiences to her granddaughter. Apart from the letters, the book is mainly told from the point of view of a child. Children often believe the adult world to be full of mysterious secrets, and Kathleen Kent conveys this childish perspective with relative ease. It seems that Sarah, more than anything, craves love, which is why she forms such a close bond with her cousin Margaret. Her mother, however, appears to be very abrupt and curt with Sarah, and therefore Sarah feels angry and betrayed by her mother at times. Does Martha really have any love for her child, or is she, as many believe, a wicked witch? All is revealed as times get more challenging for the Carrier family.
The Salem Witch Trials have been covered many times by various authors, probably most famously by Arthur Miller in his play 'The Crucible'. For those who have read the Crucible, it was nice to see names like John Proctor and Abigail Williams crop up in passing during the narrative. However, I don't believe you would need any previous knowledge about the Salem Witch Trials to read this book with ease as everything is explained thoroughly. In fact, I liked the fact that this was a somewhat different take on the Trials, as the involvement of the Carrier family made the events seem so much more personal. Kathleen Kent is in fact a direct descent of Martha Carrier, and you can tell from the way the novel is written that a lot of care and attention has been put into it. I found it extremely interesting as a work of historical fiction as it described the lives of early settlers in America, something I had always been curious about but had yet to read anything on. From the sounds of it, life was very much based around agriculture, and in many respects it seems pretty much similar to England, apart from the terrifying attacks by Native American tribes now and again. The first half of the book mainly deals with the everyday life of Sarah and her family, while the second half mainly deals with the witchcraft trials, so it is very much a book of two halves. To be honest, I think I preferred the first half, probably because the second half was so depressing and in places monotonous. However, this is more to do with the subject matter rather than the author's style - it was clearly a very depressing and upsetting time.
The chapters are dated to show the month and year. I found I often forgot to look at these, meaning that sometimes I found myself wondering how old Sarah was or how much time had elapsed since the last chapter. Therefore my advice to you when reading this would be to pay attention to these dates! The chapters are extremely long, often comprising around 30 pages. However, the chapters are split up into smaller chunks of a few pages, so I tended to stop at these if I didn't have time to finish a whole chapter. The book is written in such a way as to make you keep reading more and more, an author's skill which has kept me up past my bedtime many a night!
However, there were some aspects to the novel that I was disappointed with, which mainly pertain to the plot, so obviously I can't really reveal them! Suffice to say that there are secrets in the book which I didn't feel were fully explained, and I expected a lot more from the ending; it ended with a whimper rather than a bang. But apart from these things I was very pleased with the book, and I would definitely recommend that you read it, as it is a very compelling story.
The Heretics Daughter by Kathleen Kent is the account of the life of Sarah Carrier which charts her personal and family history before, during and after the Salem witch trials of 1690-1692. She has written her memories down as a woman of 71 to pass onto her granddaughter so that her mothers story will not be forgotten and so that, once and for all, she can unburden herself of the guilt she has carried around since childhood in the role she played in the execution of her mother Martha Carrier who was found guilty of witchcraft.
I have always found accounts of witchcraft trials to be fascinating and have read a lot about the Scottish witch trials and gawped at instruments of torture in museums and although I had heard of the famous Salem witch trials I never knew many of the details about what happened in those dark days. The Heretics Daughter is written by a direct descendant of Martha and Sarah Carrier from a combination of stories passed down orally through the family and research from the trials of the time and does a wonderful job of bringing those times to life.
The first part of the book builds up a picture of the Carrier family life before the witch trials. The family are regarded suspiciously as they were suspected of bringing smallpox to the small village of Andover, suspicion is only intensified when young Andrew Carrier survives the devastating disease. Times were hard for the Puritans in the seventeenth century who lived in fear of raids by Indians, the threat of smallpox was ever present and families would starve if the crops failed. The Carrier family was a close family but like all families it had its weak points and young Sarah, a strong willed and wilful girl, finds it hard to relate to the mother who she sees as cold and austere.
The Puritans were a deeply religious and superstitious people. The ministers would preach at the weekly meetings about the threat that witchcraft posed to good Christian souls. It is easy for us in the twentieth century to mock these people and dismiss the people as backwards and uneducated but the book shows exactly how rumour, family feuds and mass hysteria swept towns and villages and men, women, children and even dogs were condemned to die. Sarah was accused of witchcraft along with her mother and brothers and the only chance the children had of survival was to plead guilty of the crimes they were accused of meaning they would lose their mother.
Those accused of witchcraft endured horrific torture and were imprisoned in a dark and dirty cellar where vermin and disease ran rife. There were those who would seek to kick the accused when they were down but as well as these times revealing the worst of human nature a few kind and enlightened people would give these outcasts a glimmer of hope for the future. How can a family and community possibly survive and move forward after living through events so horrific and unjust that they would surely crush those involved with grief and guilt?
The character of Sarah is perfectly portrayed through the book, we meet her as a naïve young girl and see her grow into a woman with a greater understanding of the world and the people around her. The depictions of the era were also perfectly done painting an eloquent yet unsentimental picture of ordinary people living in a time where life was fragile with the threat of death constantly hanging over peoples heads and families needing to be resilient to survive.
The Heretics Daughter is a brilliant piece of historical fiction based on real life events which brings them to life in a very human way through the stories of those involved. It is not an easy read, I found myself moved almost to tears at one point in the book, but it is a book that will leave a lasting impression on the reader with the story not only about witchcraft but of family relationships and how they can carry you through your darkest hour.
This book was an unusual one for me to read as it's not the type of book I would normally have chosen, however I am a member of the Amazon Vine programme and when I seen this book on the monthly newsletter and read the good reviews about it, I decided to give it a try. It was free after all!
The Heretic's Daughter is based in the time of the Salem Witch trials and the book is written from the point of view of a young girl named Sarah Carrier. At the start of the book we meet her as she is travelling from Billerica to stay with her Grandmother in Andover. Shortly after arriving however, Smallpox breaks out and Sarah and her baby sister Hannah are sent off to stay with her Aunt, Uncle and her cousin Margaret. Sarah forms a good bond with Margaret and they become as close as sisters, and the love they have for each other is very apparent. One day though her Father comes to take her back to her family in Andover, against the deep wishes of Sarah, who would long to stay with her Aunt's family.
The book continues with Sarah and her family, with some quite ordinary day-to-day events, however the book is great to read and I did find it very interesting to read how life could have been back then (in my opinion, very boring and very cold!). The author, Kathleen Kent, has done a great job of describing how cold the winters were, struggling to keep warm using straw, to the point where it made me feel quite cold and wanting to cuddle up underneath a warm blanket! Kent also described just how warm and uncomfortable the summer is when working in the fields wonderfully, along with how exhausting it must have been harvesting those fields by hand.
You read about Sarah growing up and her relationship with her Mother, Martha Carrier, where at first Sarah doesn't seem very loving towards her and seems almost to hate her for having separated her from Margaret. Her Uncle's family don't visit as they are in dispute over who owns the farmhouse Sarah's family live in. However as the book goes on we read more into their relationship and nearer the end Sarah becomes to grow close to her Mother, and feel better towards her.
The first half of this book was an interesting read, and I did personally really enjoy reading it, and it has a good build up towards the later events. However as the second half of the book starts, we suddenly jolt forward in time to Sarah being old, married with children, and I couldn't understand the point of slotting this in before the later half of the book! I personally didn't like this part, and the author would have done better without it. Thankfully it's not long before it goes back to the 'normal' present time and the events that are unfolding as the witch trials begin and Sarah's family are thrown into the horrors of these trials.
This is a good book to read if you like historical fiction or have an interest in the witch trials. Admittedly the trials themselves are only a small part of this book, but the book as a whole does a great job of building up towards them such as the people in the town who dislike Sarah's family and later come up with wonderful accusations of why they are witches. Constantly they are snubbed by their local community, despite them causing harm to no one, and it's shocking to read how the judges believe the silly and absurd witch accusations told by young and malicious girls.
Kathleen Kent is actually a tenth generation descendent of Martha Carrier. She grew up hearing stories about the Carrier family from her Mother and Grandmother which always fascinated her, and so inspired her to write this book.