Kathleen Kent's The Heretic's Daughter provides an account of the Salem Witch Trials in Massachusetts during the early 1690s. A town's superstitions and the dynamic relationships between family members and neighbors accused of witchcraft are explored in her work. Kent centers her tale on the trial of Martha Carrier, a young mother accused of sorcery and turning three of her children into witches. In doing so, Kent weaves an emotional story of love, devotion, betrayal, and redemption.
I have to admit that I was disappointed in this novel. I was so excited to delve into Kent's book when I found it on the shelf at the local library - its book jacket summary screamed of a good read. Once home, I performed a quick blog search looking for others' reviews. I read only compliments and acclamations. So, a few days ago I set out to read it, too.
Perhaps I'm just not that into Kent's topic. Sure, I used to love Sabrina the Teenage Witch... but I'm not into any of the new vampire/witch/supernatural pop-cultural things on the market right now. I love history... but I've never been a big fan of North American history. In full honesty, I found aspects of Kent's book dry. Sometimes I wished for a fast-forward button. I desperately wanted to switch to a new book despite only having one hundred pages left to read.
However, I did not give up on Kent. I thought that if so many bloggers love this book, then surely, it must pick up somewhere.
I did, in fact, enjoy the ending of the book. Kent's work has an emotional ending, which yes, did make me emotional. Kent's vivid (and interesting) descriptions of Martha's trial and the environment inside the Salem prison also helped me presever to the end of her work.
Perhaps the most valuable message in Kent's work is the notion that "life is not what you have or what you can keep. It is what you can bear to lose," (page 134). In a time era and region rife with death through both natural (ie: smallpox) and unnatural (ie: punishment for witchery; Indian raids) causes, life was fleeting and few individuals sought to examine the meaning of existence. Kent promotes the notion that the hardships one undergoes only strengthen their personal character.
Sidenote: It is interesting to mention that Kathleen Kent is a descendant of Martha Carrier, the woman accused of witchcraft in this book. While Kent's work is premised on her family's history, she maintains that this is (for the most part) a work of fiction.
Kent, Kathleen. The Heretic's Daughter: A Novel. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2008.