The Heretic’s Daughter

July 10, 2008 at 9:00 pm (Uncategorized) (, , )

The Heretic’s Daughter by Kathleen Kent

Basically, it’s a historical fiction about the Salem witch trials, narrated by Sarah Carrier, daughter of an accused witch.

It starts in the winter of 1690. The Carrier family has left their home and made their way to Sarah’s grandmothers home. Unbeknown est to the family, one of the children carries the infectious smallpox, which quickly presents itself, and makes the town quarantine them to their home. Under the cover of darkness, Sarah’s father brings her and her baby sister Hannah to her aunt and uncle’s home, to hopefully prevent them from catching the disease. By the time they are allowed to return home, there already seems to be distrust and suspicion towards the family.

Martha Carrier, the matriarch of the family, is a stubborn and willful woman. She carries an uncanny knack of knowing when a visitor is arriving, and waits for them outside, startling them. She also seems to know how the weather will fare, if the thunder clouds will produce rain or not. After an almost devastating fire spares the family, the distrust and suspicion escalates to gossip and accusations.

Soon enough, the Salem witch trials began, accusing men and women of witchery. Because of Martha’s actions, such as performing a dance to drive the fire away, or “cursing” a neighbor after returning a stray animal that he may not have the animal much longer if his negligence to care for them continued, she is quickly accused of witchcraft. After being informed she would be taken away soon, she declines to run away, instead deciding to stay and defend herself, hoping the truth will prevail. She also instructs Sarah that if her or her brothers were brought in as well, to say anything the judges wanted to hear. Martha didn’t care if the children damned and accused her, so long as by “confessing” they would not be punished by death, like she knew she would be.

It didn’t take long for the children to be brought in on charges of witchcraft as well. In those times, only the newly born seemed to be innocent. The elderly, to children as young as 4 years of age, were brought in. By following their mother’s instructions, they told the court exactly what they wanted to hear – that they were made to be witches, their mother making them swear on the Devil’s book, and all the wicked acts they did. By doing this, they were not condemned to die, like Martha was, but they were still imprisoned, made to live in disgusting filth, eating and drinking what their father managed to bring them. In her distress, Sarah didn’t do anything to deny her being a witch, especially after she supposedly revealed her talent for healing after one of her brother’s escaped death in a miraculous recovery.

In the end, Martha was tried and hung. The children in the prison were released after the village raised enough coins to pay for bail. Witchcraft mania started to die down, and the prisoners were released, some were recompensed, and the prison torn down. For many though, sadly, it was already too late.

All in all, it was a book I enjoyed. It definitely made me wonder if the some of the characters, like her mother Martha, and her cousin Margaret, did possess some form of psychic ability. Even though Margaret knew all the supposed signs of spotting a witch, she would appear to Sarah in her dreams, even once warning her of the fire.
Barely a child of 10 years of age, Sarah went through more than any child deserved, and I felt pity for her most of the time. She learns about hypocrisy, in the form of her Uncle, to spitefulness from Mercy, an indentured servant recently rescued from Indians, to taking up the woman’s role in the house after her mother is gone. It was fairly well written from a child’s point of view about how one family goes through this terrible ordeal.

Even though it’s a work of fiction, the key facts about the mania surrounding the trials remained, mostly born from fear of diseases like smallpox and Indian raids I believe. The superstition that just because one person understood how to work different herbs into healing salves and cures, they must be guided by the Devil’s hand. So what if they saved little Billy down the road from dying? It didn’t help that the Reverends, folks that should be preaching about forgiveness and understanding, and not about the eternal damnation of our souls, whipped their congregations into a terrific frenzy of fright and suspicion.

I would definitely recommend this book to read – not purely for the trials, but for how one family struggles to remain intact through them, growing from living a fairly decent life, to just barely getting by, and eventually, the loss of a beloved family member. It’s a good first novel from Kathleen Kent, and I hope it does well with the reader base after a more public release. I just my review and thoughts of it did it some justice!

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