The Heretic’s Daughter by Kathleen Kent has been on my shelf for a long time. I actually had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Kent at a publisher dinner during NEIBA in 2008 and had been meaning to read her book ever since. I finally realized that by listening to some of the books I already own, I’ll get through them more quickly. So, I got a copy of The Heretic’s Daughter on audio from my library.

About the Book:

The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent (cover)The Heretic’s Daughter is a novel about the Salem witch trials. Sarah Carrier, daughter of Thomas and Martha Carrier, reflects on and narrates the story of her childhood, beginning with her family’s move to Andover, Massachusetts, during the late 1600s. As smallpox epidemics, Indian raids, and bad luck abound, the town’s residents become suspicious and afraid, convinced that heretics have brought down misfortune on them. Superstition and hysteria curl outward from Salem and its band of witch-finding girls like a poisonous fog, catching up the whole area in its madness. From Sarah’s perspective, Kent tells the story of the Salem witch trials and, more specifically, of one of the first women irreparably affected by it.

My Thoughts:

I actually started reading The Heretic’s Daughter a few years ago. I didn’t get very far before realizing I wasn’t in the mood for that sort of book. It’s bleak, sparse, and full of foreboding, which I suppose one might expect given its subject. I didn’t realize until I’d gotten into the audiobook just how effectively the setting and style create a space in which the story can take place.

From the start, Sarah’s family is isolated. Regarded warily by the townspeople, they are marginally accepted only because Martha’s mother, with whom the family lives, is well connected. The focus is on Sarah’s family, with only the occasional neighbor or townsman wandering across the lonely scene. Sarah is soon sent to stay with her aunt and uncle; while there, she has no contact with her immediate family, or with anyone outside her relations’ home, for that matter. For me, as a reader, not knowing about the world beyond Sarah’s immediate perception created a strong feeling of foreboding. Because I knew something of the witch trials’ history, I could see where certain actions or rumors might lead but could only stand by and watch events unfold.

When the larger world does encroach on the Carrier family’s isolation, the result is disastrous. I’ll leave the details for you to discover yourself. What has been building, unseen, for months comes crashing down, sweeping the Carriers up in the witch-hunting frenzy. I can’t think of the last time I read a book that brought a historic event to life so vividly.

I appreciated the character development in The Heretic’s Daughter. It wasn’t so much that the characters themselves, aside from Sarah, showed great changes. Instead, it was Sarah who came to understand her family: her father, her mother, her brother. Through her eyes and along with her, the reader comes to understand each character’s personality and motives as well as his or her relationship with Sarah. There were several very touching moments when Sarah finally understood something about someone in her family, and Kent always found a poignant way of relating them.

Kathleen Kent is actually one of Martha Carrier’s descendants, and she spent a great deal of time researching, reconstructing, and fictionalizing her ancestor’s life. That personal connection between author and story is something I appreciate knowing. I find it adds another dimension to a book, whether that book is fact or fiction.

Mare Winningham read The Heretic’s Daugher for the audio version. Her voice was right for Sarah: plain, straightforward, steady. I deeply enjoyed her narration and would absolutely recommend it to anyone interested in listening to The Heretic’s Daughter.

Those are my thoughts. Check out The Heretic’s Daughter by Kathleen Kent on GoodReads or LibraryThing, read other bloggers’ reviews, or listen to an Audible sample!

Your Turn!

What books have you read in which the atmosphere created by the author plays a large part in setting the scene?

Join the Conversation


  1. I have a silly prejudice against books that have the title ‘The something somethings daughter’ – I get an instant reaction of thinking it’s unoriginal and I’ve read it a hundred times before. Having said that however, this is a period in history that I love, so after reading your review I’ve added it to my list to read 🙂 How fascinating that the author wrote about her ancestor, kind of makes me wonder who might be lurking in my family tree!

    1. I have that prejudice too!! If you like this time in history, though, definitely put the prejudice aside for a bit and try The Heretic’s Daughter — I’m really glad I did. That’s a good point…maybe there’s something novel-worthy hiding in my ancestry, too!

  2. I read this book a little over a year ago and absolutely loved it as well. I have always ben fascinated by this time period, so I was immediately sucked into it all. I was heartbroken by the story, and thought that Kathleen Kent did conduct flawless research on her ancestors. Everything about this just felt so genuine, so authentic to what life must have been like during this time. I really can’t wait to read her second book, The Wolves of Andover, which is supposed to take place prior to the events of The Heretic’s Daughter. I’m looking forward to reading it and getting swept up again in this world!

    1. I agree with you that The Heretic’s Daughter felt very genuine. It evoked a time and place in history more vividly than any other book I’ve encountered about that time. I actually have The Wolves of Andover and would love to read it! Though I may need a little time before I can go back to such a bleak place 🙂

  3. I have had this book on my shelf for the longest time, and haven’t yet gotten the chance to read it. It sounds like it does a great job with infusing the atmosphere into the story, and I really need to read this one soon. Thanks for your thoughtful take on it!

    1. It really does! I did find the beginning slow when I tried to read it in print, so my advice would be, keep going. It’s so effective in setting the atmosphere for the rest of the book.

  4. erin…just finished the book today…i will admit to being a little bored in the beginning though i did appreciate how HARD life was then…but after martha was taken away, well, wow!!!! the absolute cruelty of everyone, her poor little sister so neglected and the absolute STUPIDITY that little girls could do and adults believe!! i also thought it was interesting in her afterward that she mentioned that hanging was not the preferred manner of death
    all in all a great book and thanks for the nudge to read it!

    1. I started out a little bored too, but once I got sucked in, I was in! The audiobook didn’t have the afterword, so I’ll have to find my print copy and read it. Thanks for pointing me towards it, and for reading The Heretic’s Daughter with me!

  5. Bleak is absolutely the word for this one…and I loved it. Kent really showed how dark and depressing that world was.

    And when I think of brilliant settings, Sarah Waters is the author that always comes to mind.

  6. I bought “The Heretic’s daughter” recently, after having seen it on your “currently reading/listening” list. This period of American history is interesting me a lot. I have read Gaskell’s Loïs the Witch not so long ago and didn’t know anything about Kathleen Kent’s books. I look forward to read this one!

    1. If you enjoy this time in American history, I do think you’ll enjoy the book! If you find the beginning a little slow, keep going. It does pick up, and the bleakness and isolation of the beginning is very effective in setting the scene, I thought.

  7. I have this book on my tbr list and hope to read it sooner rather than later. I don’t know a lot about the Salem Witch Trials and would like to. I’m intrigued because in your review you comment on how vividly the author brings this historic event to life.

    Your review is terrific, Erin and makes me very interested in reading this book. Thank you! I also think it’s wonderful that you met Kathleen Kent. I find that it makes ‘reading’ a book a little more special when you’ve met the author.

    1. I hope you enjoy this one whenever you do get to it, Amy! I think it’d be a wonderful way to learn about the Salem witch trials and the world in which they occurred; in a way, it offers an “insider’s” perspective, horrifying as that is.

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