Book Review: the Heretic's Daughter

I took a course on 19th Century Women’s Literature in college and fell in love with the works of the Bronte sisters: dark, eerie yet romantic tales written in classic prose with a descriptive tone that carries readers on a lyrical journey through time and space.

Recently, my reading interests have been consumed with business and networking books, with mostly light-hearted, quick-read chick-lit novels tossed in when I have free time. The Heretic’s Daughter, by Kathleen Kent, is a deep read that is both entertaining and insightful—a page-turner with depth. Both the tone and themes are reminiscent of some of my favorite 19th Century classic novels penned by great women authors.

For the writer in me, beautiful turns of phrase made the process of reading as enchanting as following the story. Early on in the book, several passages caused me to pause, left breathless by their eloquence. For instance, “It was deep into the season and so bitterly cold, the liquid from our streaming eyes and noses froze onto our cheeks like frosted ribbons of lace.”

Too many books on today’s bestseller list contain heart-pounding plots with little in the way of true craftsmanship on the writer’s behalf. Other so-called “literary” novels place too much emphasis on how the story is told, without caring if the story, itself, will hold a reader’s interest. Kent is a true wordsmith who never sacrifices plot or character development for the sake of quality prose, and successfully delivers all these elements in a captivating 332 pages.

The book spans the time period of 1690 to 1752, jumping around to tell the story. Chapter heads make it easy to follow the time changes as we peek into the different stages of Sarah Carrier’s life. Young Sarah, only 10 when the novel begins, is the daughter of Martha Carrier, one of the first women to be accused, tried and hanged as a witch during the Salem Witchhunts.

The book explores the lives of the Carrier family: mother Martha Carrier, a strong-willed woman who eschews the conventions of church life; father Thomas, a large man who seems to elicit deep respect bordering on fear from others in the town; sons Richard, Tom and Andrew; young Sarah Carrier, age 10, the point-of-view character; and toddler Hannah. At the book’s start, young Andrew is afflicted with smallpox and the reader knows life will not be easy for the Carriers in 18th Century Massachusetts, just outside of Salem.

When the children go to live with their aunt in a nearby town, Sarah bonds closely with her cousin Margaret. Is Margaret a witch or is she not? For that matter, is Martha? There are hints throughout the book – odd healings and other events that make you wonder if there could be something behind the accusations. In general, most of the supposed “witchcraft” can be easily chalked up to coincidence and false persecution, but it lends an additional air of mystery to the story. To be sure, there are dark secrets within the Carrier family, and Martha is a strong, strong woman. But a witch? Probably not.

The book is historical fiction and therefore, the characters are based on real people. However, as characters in finely-crafted fiction should do, each fills an important purpose, driving the plot forward and developing Sarah’s personality through her interactions with them. Sarah’s relationship with her mother is complex, lending even more depth and emotion to Sarah’s guilt over Martha Carrier’s inevitable death.

Mysteries, family relationships, religious beliefs, coming-of-age, bonds between women, and personal strength are all explored in this fascinating tale. One of the more powerful lines in the book comes toward the end, in Martha Carrier’s last words to her daughter: “There is no death in remembrance… Remember me and a part of me will always be with you.” A part of “The Heretic’s Daughter” will always remain with me.

I’ve often heard people say that first novels are never a writer’s best work. This is Kathleen Kent’s first novel, and, if that’s the case, I can only say I can’t wait to read more!


This review is part of BlogStop Book Tours.

Please check in to the other writers' blogs on this tour to read more reviews!

Blog Stop dates and blogs:

September 1 - Devourer of Books

September 5 - Anything That Pays… A Freelance Writer’s Blog

September 8 - Literarily

September 10 - Writers, Witches and Words… Oh My!

September 12 - Book Room Reviews

September 15 - Something She Wrote

September 17 - She Reads Books

September 19 - Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin’?

September 22 - Presenting Lenore

September 26 - Sharp Words

September 29 - Write Now

You can purchase The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent here:

Barnes & Noble