Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent

It's a real joy to be able to write this review. I have been journeying through a month or so of bestselling popular fiction with a historical bent, aimed at women - this was not my plan but all my library holds came in at once! And it was a nice change, after Gravity's Rainbow, to take on some easy reading.

Having worked my way through the latest offerings from blockbuster authors Diana Gabaldon and Philippa Gregory, I turned to The Heretic's Daughter with no more than mild interest: new author, somewhat titillating subject of the Salem witch trials - and found that I had saved the best till last. Even better, given my interest in publishing blogs, was the discovery that this novel was fished out of the slushpile (by an editor who deserves a raise). Yes, writer friends, it does happen.

Kent based her novel on her own family's history, her ancestor Martha Carrier having been implicated in this infamous passage of American history. She chose to write the story through the eyes of Martha's (real or fictional?) daughter Sarah, and removed it a step farther by giving it the voice of the adult Sarah relating a memoir of the darkest period of her childhood. It works.

I won't include any spoilers, because you'll want to read this one. I'm trying not to get too fulsome over this book, but it is hard to believe it's a first novel. Kent writes with the authority of a seasoned author, helped no doubt by excellent editing.

In short, this book has polish. It sings. It soars. The pacing is tight, the dialog spare and focused, the prose passages lyrical but not overdone. I don't know much about the witch trials, but I found all the details completely believable and could really see the scenes and the action in my mind. In the right hands, this could make an excellent movie.

The story is in many ways a brutal one, even before the accusations and trials begin, but convincingly portrays a family which, although in no way close (because of the hardships of their lives) manages to remain a loyal unit through the worst possible turns of fate. The family theme is just the right balance for the divisiveness of the wider community, and Kent handles some difficult moments when the two collide extremely well.

I'd better stop here before I give away any vital details. The verdict: excellent. I even liked the ending, and if you've read any of my earlier reviews you may have spotted that I'm picky on that score. Well done, Kathleen Kent; I'll be waiting for your next book.
P.S. I also like the cover design. Props to Little, Brown for getting that right. Publishers please note: it is RESTRAINED.
P.P.S. Do I sometimes come over as too critical? I don't mean to be. If they all wrote this well, I'd be singing all the way.


Emma Michaels said...

I don't think you are too critical. Great review!

moonrat said...

awesome, Jane. sounds like fun :)

re: Gravity's Rainbow: i'm with you. i read 14 trashy fantasies before i was ready for anything more substantial after finishing.

Alison (Alison's Book Marks) said...

I passed this one up, and after reading your review, I'm kicking myself! I'm putting it on my TBR list.

Great review!