Review: The Heretic's Daughter, by Kathleen Kent

There are few books that keep me up at night. The Heretic’s Daughter, by first-time novelist Kathleen Kent, was one of them. With none of the insecurity sometimes displayed by new authors who are unsure how to carry a long narrative, Kent effortlessly weaves the tale of a woman, Martha Carrier, and the fate suffered by her family during the Salem Witch Trials in 17th century Massachusetts. Told from the perspective of Martha’s 10-year-old daughter, Sarah, the story is not about magic or spells, but is instead about one woman’s courageous stand against tyranny, suspicion, and superstition in a time when such beliefs were considered an integral part of everyday life.

I found that over the course of reading this book I didn’t want to finish it. Not because I lost interest, but because I had become so emotionally invested in these characters that I wanted to somehow stave off their fate, all the while telling myself that I was being ridiculous. In our modern world of happy endings and tidily concluded book and movie plots, the knowledge that my favorite character would indeed die at the end, for no reason other than ignorance and malice, was actually hard for me to confront.

The Heretic’s Daughter is also about family, about the importance of loyalty, and of the timeless struggle of children to understand their parents. It’s a point well-crafted by Kent, told through the story of Sarah’s evolving relationship with her mother as she grows older and comes to understand the reasons behind her stoic demeanor. Ashamed and angry of her at the beginning, Sarah comes to not only comprehend her mother’s actions, but to admire her, love her, and ultimately, carry her legacy with pride.

Kathleen Kent has written a fine novel, certainly an impressive debut. It was one of those rare times when one finds not only a good story, but good storytelling. I’ll certainly be on the lookout for her next effort.

12 July 2008


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