Review - The Heretic's Daughter by: Kathleen Kent

by - Monday, June 15, 2015

Title: The Heretic's Daughter
Author: Kathleen Kent
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Pages: 332
Format: Hardcover
Source: Personal purchase

Martha Carrier was one of the first women to be accused, tried and hanged as a witch in Salem, Massachusetts. Like her mother, young Sarah Carrier is bright and willful, openly challenging the small, brutal world in which they live. Often at odds with one another, mother and daughter are forced to stand together against the escalating hysteria of the trials and the superstitious tyranny that led to the torture and imprisonment of more than 200 people accused of witchcraft. This is the story of Martha's courageous defiance and ultimate death, as told by the daughter who survived.

Kathleen Kent is a tenth generation descendant of Martha Carrier. She paints a haunting portrait, not just of Puritan New England, but also of one family's deep and abiding love in the face of fear and persecution.

My thoughts:

I’d bought this book and read a few pages back in 2011. I don’t remember why I put it off back then, but I got excited all over again when I remembered it was about the Salem witch trials, which is a personal interest of mine. As soon as I read about 60-something pages, though, I kind of remembered why I put it aside in the first place.

I’m guessing that due to the subject matter being witch trials, I might have thought it would be a story like American Horror Story’s ‘The Coven.’ Or, at least, something along the lines of Women of the Asylum: Voices from Behing the Walls, a witch-y version of it or something. However, when the chickenpox incident at the beginning of the book seemed to drag forever, I thought to myself, “maybe, all witches lost their lives to this disease.” I waited and waited. I waited some more. And NO WITCHES.

All that I’ve mentioned above are in no way a reflection of Kathleen Kent; that I want to make clear. Kent’s ancestors have lived through the witch trials through 1692-1693 that took place in Ipswich and Andover as well as Salem. Passing down to 10 different generations, these stories have become a book at Kathleen Kent’s penmanship—while reading Water for Elephants, I’d thought that Sara Gruen tried too hard to include all her research and neglected the storytelling part. I felt the same thing while reading The Heretic’s Daughter. Yes, it’s a historical novel that has real details… Maybe it wasn’t advertised as focusing on the Salem witch trials, I wouldn’t be this disappointed; I don’t know.

For me, the most interesting part about the book was that the narrator is a child. Sarah is a little girl who’s growing up thinking her parents, and her family in general, are just super boring people. She believes this even more when she’s sent away to live with her cousin’s family when the chickenpox breaks. Later, though, toward the end of the book, we find out that the real excitement was in her own family even though what they have to go through is very sad and disturbing.

Sarah’s mother, Martha, is accused of being a witch. When this happens, Sarah is in awe of her “boring” mother’s bravery, her acceptance of death even though she knows she’s innocent. Martha saves her children by telling them to accept the accusations.

As I’ve mentioned in the beginning, The Heretic’s Daughter was far from what I’d imagined it would be. Instead of a crowd of witches, I found in it family ties, people who are faithful to their beliefs, those who judge what’s different and attack everything they’re afraid of.

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