Monday, February 04, 2013

Book 16: The Traitor's Wife

Originally published as The Wolves of Andover, this novel is a prequel to The Heretic's Daughter.  The heretic of the previous novel's title is the wife in this story, and it makes sense that they changed the title to reinforce the connection between the novels.  While I quite enjoyed The Heretic's Daughter, and how it explored life in a small community during colonial times, this novel was oddly structured.  Kathleen Kent is descended from Martha Carrier, one of the women to die during the Salem Witch Trials, and this novel attempts to give more of her back story.  The novel itself is fiction though inspired by family and local legends, including the question of Thomas Carrier's possible role as executioner of King Charles for Oliver Cromwell.  The problem seems to be that Kent decided that the courtship between Martha and Thomas wasn't enough for a full novel, and added in a story of political intrigue.  While she is probably correct in believing that the actual courtship couldn't have been expanded more, personally I think there would have been other ways to approach this, focusing on colonial life, even if it had simply been telling the story from a few more perspectives such as Patience, Martha's cousin, or Daniel, Patience's husband, for example.
Instead, the novel goes back and forth between chapters focused on Martha and chapters focused on King Charles II's special mission to track the traitor that killed his father in the Colonies.  Though Charles II has pardoned most of the people involved in the English Revolution, that pardon did not extend to people directly involved in his father's death, including judges and executioner.  Many of these are suspected to be hiding in plain sight in the Colonies but no extraction attempts have worked.  A spy master decides to send a group of five men to sneak up on Thomas Morgan, the executioner, suspected to be Thomas Carrier, and bring him back.  Unfortunately, the men chosen for this mission are a bunch of rough untrustworthy thugs so these chapters read more like a comedy of errors without the humor.  The story didn't add to the tension for me at all, because it just seemed like this mission was doomed for failure given the men's incompetence, not to mention that this is a prequel.  Additionally, each one of these chapters is told from a different perspective which also prevented me from getting too wrapped up in the story, given the lack of narrative continuity.
The novel was strongest when it focused on the story of Martha, the strong willed and sharp tongued daughter who gets to sent to her cousin's to work as a servant - and hopefully, meet a man that hasn't been driven off by her sharp tongue yet.  Martha is hard and harsh.  While I enjoy strong women, it took me a while to get used to her because in the beginning her behavior bordered on mean.  As I adjusted to the character, however, and she adjusted to her new surroundings, I became more interested in this part of the story.  Her relationship with Patience and its slow disintegration is well-written and very believable.  Unfortunately, as I said the novel was too mixed up about what it wanted to be - it failed as a story of intrigue but had too much in its pages to be a simple tale of domesticity and life in the colonies.  I wouldn't recommend this one unless the person has read Kent's previous novel and really needs to see how this went for themselves.

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