Kathleen Kent is the best-selling author of historical fiction including her first novel “The Heretic’s Daughter.” She is a tenth-generation descendent of Martha Carrier who was one of the first women to be accused, tried and hanged as a witch in Salem Massachusetts. This book tells of Martha Carrier’s life during the Salem witch trials of 1692 based on family stories based on through the generations.
“The Heretic’s Daughter” begins with a letter written by an old and ailing Sarah Carrier Chapman to her granddaughter Lydia Wakefield. She writes her in advance to prepare her for what she will read when she receives the package she sent her filled with written accounts of her childhood and the hard times her family went through during the witch trials. The book is narrated by ten year old Sarah Carrier and opens in December 1690 in Massachusetts as her family is moving from Billerica to her grandmother’s farm in Andover to escape a smallpox outbreak.
Her family consists of her father Thomas, her mother Martha and older brothers Richard, Tom and Andrew and younger sister Hannah. When Andrew becomes sick the family is quarantined and she and Hannah are smuggled out to live with her aunt and her family. Eventually they move back home and just as things are going back to normal the hysteria begins and people start getting accused and arrested for witchcraft. The town becomes paranoid and suspicious of everyone and it hits home when Sarah’s mother gets arrested. Before it’s all over she is found guilty and hanged and even the children get arrested and spend time in prison.
“The Heretic’s Daughter” by Kathleen Kent is both a coming of age novel and a historical depiction of Puritan America, the witch trials and farm life in the late 17th century. Their bleak and simple lives are made worse by the heartbreaking story of this family’s ordeal. The bad part was that anyone with a grudge against someone could accuse him or her and be taken seriously. The prejudices and fears of their day could just as easily happen in modern times in part because of intolerance and fundamentalism.
This is a must read for fans of historical fiction and especially of the Salem witch trials. While this is a well known part of American history there are very few books that go deep into what it must have been liked to be falsely accused of witchcraft. The shocking details about prison life of the day might put some people off but overall it is a worthwhile read. It is an easy read, fast paced and impossible to put down.