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The Heretic's Daughter


The Heretic's Daughter

When Sarah Carrier and her family load themselves and their household goods into an open wagon and move nine miles to her grandmother’s home in Andover, Massachusetts, they hope to outrun the plague of smallpox that has devoured their neighbors in Billerica. On their journey the Carriers bring with them more than their hopes and meager possessions. Unknown to them, Sarah’s older brother, Andrew, already carries the seeds of the deadly and disfiguring disease.

In Andover, at first the family is greeted with suspicion by their new neighbors, in part because of fear of the spreading disease but also because of rumors about Sarah’s father, Thomas, and the strong will and sharp tongue of Sarah’s mother, Martha. When the new neighbors discover that one of the Carriers is inflicted with smallpox, the family is immediately put on quarantine. To protect Sarah and her one-year-old sister Hannah from the spreading disease, Thomas breaks the quarantine and takes flight in the middle of the night. He takes the girls to live with Martha’s older sister, Mary, and her husband, Roger Toothaker.

In contrast to her stern and distant parents, the Toothaker household is mirthful and warm. Uncle Roger performs magic tricks and regales the family with long and dramatic ghost stories. Aunt Mary cherishes baby Hannah, and Cousin Margaret and Sarah become fast friends. Months later, after the ravages of the smallpox have done their damage in Andover, Thomas returns to claim Sarah and Hannah. Sarah is saddened to leave the Toothakers, and she is especially mournful to hear that the disease has claimed her beloved grandmother.

Because of the disease brought to Andover by the Carriers, the family is ordered to leave the community. But before her death, Sarah’s grandmother’s last wish is that Martha and her family stay and care for the farm. In part because of the grandmother’s standing in the community, the Carriers are permitted to remain on the farm, which causes a rift between the Toothaker and Carrier families. Roger believes that as the older sister, Mary, not Martha, should inherit the land.

This dispute escalates, pitting family members against one another, with gossiping and distrustful neighbors joining the fray. All this occurs around the same time that accusations of witchcraft plague neighboring communities, notably Salem.

By the time Sarah is 10, the hysteria and witch hunts have reached a fevered pitch. The accusations of witchcraft spread to Andover, where Martha and others are falsely accused by members of the Toothaker family and superstitious and vindictive neighbors. Before being taken to prison, Martha shares a secret with Sarah and exacts a promise connected with the importance of family loyalty. After Sarah and her brothers are imprisoned, she endures unimaginable hardships and makes a decision that changes her life and that of her family.

THE HERETIC’S DAUGHTER is a story of love, sacrifice, loyalty and courage. Although I knew the outcome, I found myself entranced because of Kathleen Kent’s strong storytelling, her vivid use of descriptive language and the haunting voice of Sarah. Except for a few long passages of narrative, the story kept me engaged, and, by the end of the novel, I was sorry it was over. Kent, a descendant of Martha Carrier, has done a bewitching job in her novel, which is the first of what I hope to be many more.

Reviewed by Donna Volkenannt on May 24, 2012

The Heretic's Daughter
by Kathleen Kent

  • Publication Date: October 12, 2009
  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books
  • ISBN-10: 031602449X
  • ISBN-13: 9780316024495