Friday, September 26, 2008

Review: The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent

The Heretic's Daughter
The Heretic's Daughter
Author: Kathleen Kent
Publisher: Little, Brown & Company (Sept. 3. 2008)
Hardcover, $24.99
ISBN-10: 0316024481
ISBN-13: 978-0316024488

In her debut novel, Kathleen Kent offers a unique perspective of the Salem Witch Trials: the story is told through the eyes of a child, ten-year-old Sarah Carrier, daughter of one of the accused.

The Heretic’s Daughter begins months before the Salem Witch Trials. The Carrier family has just moved to Andover, Massachusetts from Billerica, hoping to escape the outbreak of smallpox there. Unbeknownst to them, one of Sarah’s older brothers, Andrew, is already infected. When Andrew becomes ill, Sarah and her younger sister Hannah are sent to live with their aunt and uncle, in the hopes that this will spare them from the disease.

On her own for the first time in her life, Sarah quickly bonds with her cousin Margaret. The two girls become inseparable. Sarah also notices a stark contrast between her family life and that of her cousin. Compared to Margaret’s family, Sarah’s parents – especially her mother, Martha Carrier – seem cold and distant.

When Sarah and Hannah finally return to their family, much has changed. Andrew has been ravaged by the disease, another family member has died from it, and many in the community are suspicious of the Carrier family. Sarah and her mother clash with each other frequently. Rumors begin to circulate about Martha Carrier, slowly at first but gaining strength as events in nearby Salem begin to incite mass hysteria.

At first, Sarah resents her mother and feels that Martha's willfulness and pride are what have damaged their family’s reputation in the community. But as the story progresses, and Martha Carrier is arrested for witchcraft, Sarah’s attitude towards her mother softens. She begins to admire and love the qualities in her mother that she previously resented. Sarah’s anguish over the fate she knows awaits her mother is palpable and heartbreaking.

Kathleen Kent’s prose is beautiful, frequently verging on poetic. One of my favorite passages is this description of Martha Carrier:
“It was not defiance only that made me study her so, although our cat-and-mouse-games did become a kind of battle. It was also because she, with a deliberation bordering on the unseemly, set herself apart from what a woman should be and was as surprising as a flood or a brush fire. … But Martha Carrier was like a deep pond, the surface of which was placid enough but deeply cold to the touch and which was filled beneath the surface with sharp rocks and treacherous choke roots.”
While Sarah’s relationship with her mother is the driving force for the novel, I found the relationship between Sarah and her siblings to be very touching as well. When Sarah is about to leave to live with her aunt and uncle, she’s given a handmade doll. Her departure came about so suddenly that the doll could not be finished before she left – it was missing buttons for eyes. One of Sarah’s brothers rips the buttons from his shirt cuffs and runs after her so that Sarah will have eyes for her doll.

The Heretic’s Daughter is one of the best historical fiction novels I’ve read this year. Kent’s narrative style is so refined that it’s hard to believe this is her first novel. If you enjoy excellent, well-researched and compelling historical fiction, this is a must-read.

Rating: 10/10

Buy The Heretic's Daughter:
Indiebound | Powell's | Amazon


  1. Wonderful review! I love poetic prose...when it's done right. I've heard so many good things about this book, and I can't wait to read it.

  2. 10/10? That is really something. I have heard so much about this book, but your rating has made me want to read it all the more.

  3. Ahhh! I really want to read your review, but I have to resist because I am going to be reading in the next couple of weeks. But I will have to remember to come and compare notes after I am done. I looking forward to this book.

  4. Anna, thank you! I think you'll enjoy The Heretic's Daughter.

    Violet, I think this is the first book I've given a 10. There have been a few 9's. The Heretic's Daughter is one of the most remarkable books I've read in very long time, and I felt it deserved a 10.

    Nicole, I do the same thing! I hate to see reviews of things I'm currently reading pop up. I'm so tempted to read them but I don't want a review to influence my opinion. I look forward to reading your review!

  5. I just zipped down to see your rating because I have this one sitting by my bed to read. Glad to see you liked it. I'll come back after I get it read.

  6. I am really looking forward to reading this one day. It sounds so wonderful! Thanks for the great review!

  7. I would have to agree with you. I loved The Heretic's Daughter. I reviewed it on my blog. Great review.

  8. Good review, Ruth ~ thanks! I love historical fiction when it's done right. "The Heretic's Daughter" is now on my TBR list.

  9. I also love that quote you pulled.

  10. I loved your review, and I totally agree. It was definitely in my top 3 reads for the year.

  11. Thanks for your review, which I found via the Sat Review at Semicolon. I've been seeing mixed reviews of this, so glad to find someone who thought so highly of it. I'm partial to first novels and looking forward to this one!

  12. Excellent book. Kent's descriptions, while very picturesque, do not take up pages and pages. I almost felt as though I were in the prison with Sarah.