Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Heretic’s Daughter by Kathleen Kent (a review)

The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen KentI must confess that I initially felt reluctant to read The Heretic’s Daughter by Kathleen Kent. Although I was intrigued by the premise—it is the story of Martha Carrier, one of the so-called Salem witches, as told by her daughter Sarah—I was also worried the story would be grim, with too many gory details of what was done to the accused. In fact, my fears were completely unfounded—while Kent, a direct descendant of Martha Carrier, doesn’t gloss over the atrocities committed in the name of religion during this period, she also doesn’t linger on the more disturbing details. Once I’d started the book, I couldn’t put it down—I stayed up half the night to finish it (sobbing quietly into my pillow at the end, to avoid waking my partner). It is, quite simply, the best book I’ve read all year.

The Heretic’s Daughter is primarily the story of Martha and Sarah’s difficult mother-daughter relationship, set against the backdrop of the horrors of the Salem witch trials, arguably one of the worst periods of American history. Early on in the novel, Sarah describes her mother thus:
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. ... 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. And she had a tongue the sharpness of which would gut a man as quick as a Gloucester fisherman could clean a lamprey eel. (pp. 7-8)
I loved the language in this book—it felt authentic without being overwrought or difficult to follow. I also loved the use of dreams throughout the book to illustrate Sarah’s state of mind. Finally, since I’m an amateur genealogist myself, I’m always curious to see how authors translate their family history into fiction. This novel paints a vivid portrait of life in Puritan New England in the late 17th century, but above all it is a tribute to Martha Carrier and her daughter: a moving story about courage and the power of love. I highly recommend it.

This was one of my favourite books in 2008.

Many other bloggers have reviewed this book. Here is a relatively random selection of reviews:
Alive on the ShelvesBooks and CooksBoston BibliophileKittling: BooksLibrarysCat Book ListLinus’s BlanketLiterary LicensePresenting LenoreSomething She Wrote

For author interviews, visit these blogs: Everything Distils into ReadingBlog Talk Radio

Hachette has generously agreed to sponsor a giveaway of this book on my blog! Come back tomorrow for all the details.

Thank you to Tina at Bookshipper and Hachette for giving me this book to review.


  1. I haven't read the book, but I'm going to be listening this afternoon, because so many people I know loved this book.

  2. Thanks for linking to my review! I really enjoyed this book and have recommended it to a number of friends.

  3. Ah, I know what it's like to quietly sob into my pillow to avoid waking my cat and husband. Though I don't think this one did more than make me tear up a bit.

  4. I really enjoyed this one as well- and like you I was taken by surprise that the Witch Trials were primarily a backdrop. I thought that was particularly effective here.

    I've linked to your (excellent) review here: http://caramellunacy.blogspot.com/2008/10/heretics-daughter-kathleen-kent.html

  5. The period with the Salem witch trials is tumultuous and I would love to see how the mother-daughter relationship would fare under those circumstances. Please enter me in the contest.

    savvyverseandwit AT gmail DOT com

  6. This is an amazing time in the history of our country. It is hard to understand how these realationships could have ended up in this type of conflict. I am anxious to read the book and see how the characters interact and how the story ends.
    (I'm entering in the contest!

  7. This sounds like a great book, I can't wait to read it.

  8. Ooh, this one sounds fantastic! Excellent review.

  9. I honestly thought I had this book on my wishlist, but when I just now went to double-check, it wasn't there. So I'm glad I've read your post...because now I've added it & I know it's there!

  10. Avis,

    Great review! I like the mother daughter theme...looking forward to reading this book! I signed up for your giveaway and am commenting here for another chance!

    I missed the live author chat today but plan to listen to it tomorrow.

  11. Early MA stories always intrigue me because my family has lived there since 1620 (father's side) and 1637 (mother's side)
    your review is very compelling
    florida982002@yahoo dot com

  12. Wow - Avis. That's high praise - the best book you've read all year. I'm glad you liked it!

    I have this one, so no need to enter me.


  13. Bermudaonion, I completely forgot to listen to the interview (and besides I was working), but I'm definitely planning to.

    Thanks, Tara!

    You're welcome, Lisa, and thanks for dropping by!

    Lenore, there was one moment at the end that really got me.

    Thank you, Lana! I'll check out your blog too.

    Serena, done! If you don't win the book from me, do get your hands on it some other way...

    kape747, I've entered you too. It's true, it's hard to believe in some ways that such things happened and yet there are plenty of crazy things going on right now too...

    Thanks for dropping by, Rachel.

    Thank you, allisonmariecat! I'm glad you enjoyed my review.

    indygo88, I'm glad my review served as a reminder. This is a book you don't want to miss!

    Thanks, Bonnie. I also really enjoy mother-daughter stories, although I would say this is not your usual mother-daughter fare (obviously).

    Wow, Kaye, that's going back a while! I'm glad you enjoyed my review.

    Shana, I've already read another book that I loved loved loved, but I think this one's still number 1.

  14. I'd love to be entered in the contest if it's not too late. I'm dying to read this book, and now I'm intrigued because you said it made you cry. I've always been interested in the witch trials, and I've heard good things about this book.

    Diary of an Eccentric

  15. This does sound amazing and I really want to read it! That's crazy she was a direct descendant, but very cool that she took that and wrote this story.
    It really was an awful time in our history, and it just fascinates me so much.


  16. It's not too late, Anna! The giveaway runs until November 7, so consider yourself entered. It must be noted that I cry rather easily...

    Lauren, it's worth listening to the interview with Kathleen Kent too (which I mention here. It definitely adds something to the story, the fact that she's a direct descendant.

  17. What a great review. I will definitely be adding it to my TBR list. Please enter me in your drawing.

  18. If I don't win it here, I'll definitely check it out from the library sometime.

    captivethoughtsbookclub at yahoo dot com

  19. It sounds really intense.


    susan_geiger at eku dot edu

  20. my bad, wrong email...

    it's actually: susan_geiger2 at eku dot edu


  21. I enjoyed reading your review. It makes we want to read this one even more=)


  22. Another wonderful review of this book. Everyone seems to love it! I haven't read much about the Salem Witch trials but there are several books out now and I've become fascinated to learn more. It's already on my wishlist.

  23. I've heard a lot a good things about this novel. I enjoyed reading your take on it, and I'd love to read it myself.

    bluebyrd24 at gmail dot com

  24. Thank you for including that quote in your review-with historical fiction I really like to know how language is used and if it adds to things or not :)

  25. I've read a lot of reviews of this book but yours is more detailed than most. You've hit on some things I hadn't heard before. Now I really want to read this. Great job!

  26. This sounds really good and I enjoyed the quote you included from pages 7-8. I also read and commented on your review. I learned even more about the book. Please include my name ans I've added this to my blog. Thanks for your contest!


  27. Apologies to those whose comments I didn't reply to before the end of the giveaway!

    Thanks, Framed, I'm glad you enjoyed my review!

    Page Turner, do get your hands on this book!

    Susan, it's actually less intense that I thought it would be (although yes, pretty intense anyway).

    Thanks, Ms. Gemini. I hope you do manage to read this book.

    Tanabata, I'm glad you enjoyed my review. For what it's worth at this point, I did enter you in the giveaway!

    Thanks, bluebyrd. I hope you manage to get yourself a copy!

    You're welcome, Bluespot. I loved the language used in this book, though it's hard to give a real idea of how it sounds in a short quote.

    Yay, thank you, wrighty! It's hard not to sound repetitive when a book has been reviewed by so many people (though I don't read others' reviews until I've written mine), so I'm glad to hear I said a few things you hadn't heard before!

  28. Thanks for leaving your link and for posting mine.

    I just finished The Year of Fog by Michelle Romond and I thought it was fabulous. She is some writer! Can't wait to read more by her.

  29. I've always been fascinated by the Salem witch trials and have heard such great things about this book. It's definitely going on my wishlist!

  30. My husband is a big geneology freak so this might be of interest to both of us. I have read several good reviews and yours is excellent.

    rebecca dot cox at charter dot net

  31. Oh this sounds like an interesting read, reminds me of a school rock play my sister did about the witches or so called in that period of time, I loved that play and believe I'd enjoy the book too The Heretic's Daughter.

    I'm Lea Bristow from South Australia.

    Contact - leabristow@yahoo.com.au

  32. This part of our country's history is always incredibly interesting and at the same time, a period forging a sense of horror that we could have acted in such an unChristian way. This book would provide more better clue to the human side of the witch trials as it presents the mother daughter relationship.

    bstilwell12 at comcast dot net