The infamous Salem witch trials are staged once again in this historically accurate yet oddly flat novel. Three characters narrate the tale: 15-year-old Charity Fowler; her father, Lucas; and her maternal aunt, Susannah Morrow. The novel opens in 1691 as Charity, devastated and increasingly uncertain, struggles to cope with both the loss of her mother in childbirth and the abrupt departure of her first love. The easily led teenager seeks solace in a group of manipulative girls, who insinuate that evil is lurking in their insular, superstitious little town. As Charity loses her grasp on reason, Lucas, a God-fearing man who has tended his family the best he can but is hobbled by his piety, takes the reins of the narrative. Tormented by his sexual longings and uneasy about his stern treatment of his daughters, he commits grievous errors in judgment. The hysteria over the alleged presence of witches in the village-as documented by the crazed "fits" of young girls-has paralyzed the community when Susannah's voice takes over. Her London background and her strength, sensuality and courage inevitably make her a victim of the madness, but her lucid narration carries the reader through the horror of escalating accusations and unmerited punishment. Chance's clear-eyed narrative doesn't slide into sensationalism, but with the exception of the intriguing and well-drawn title character, it adds little to the well-known story. (Oct. 28) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Told from the perspective of a victim, her accuser, and the accuser's father, this tale of the Salem witch trials is gripping from its very opening pages. Sixteen-year-old Charity Fowler's mother has just died, and her beautiful Aunt Susannah arrives from England on the same day. Lucas Fowler, Charity's father, is a deeply religious but emotionally distant Puritan who has repressed his own love for his daughter since her birth to focus instead on saving her soul. Charity thus turns to a group of teenage girls in Salem for acceptance. When Aunt Susannah interrupts the girls' visit to a local tavern, she becomes the target of a vicious and tragic sequence of events that eventually lead to her imprisonment as a witch. Most of the supporting characters in this novel are actual historical figures who were involved in the Salem witch trials. Romance writer Chance (The Way Home) has brought believability and immediacy to this dark chapter in American history with a story that can be recommended to a wide spectrum of readers and book discussion groups. Every public library will want to own this.-Kim Rutter, Lake Villa Dist. Lib., IL Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
An overwrought debut revisits the Salem Witch trials.
In 1691, our first narrator, 15-year-old Charity Fowler, watches her mother Judith die giving birth to another daughter. Charity’s father Lucas, a stern and pious carpenter, has gone to the harbor to fetch her aunt Susannah Morrow, who has sailed from England to see her sister Judith. The two arrive in time to see the birth, but a distraught Charity—her behavior is the most contrived in a story where characters too obviously reflect its themes of sexual repression, rampant religiosity, and the old Hawthorne-esque fear of evil spirits lurking in the dark forest—suddenly turns against Susannah. Charity, who was seduced by the unsuitable young Sam, whom her mother Judith paid to leave the village, now, for obvious plot purposes, overcome by deep sexual and religious guilt, is suddenly convinced that Susannah is an instrument of the Devil. She’s also desperate for her father’s attention—he offers her biblical texts rather than hugs—and has befriended a bad lot of girls, some based on the real-life accusers in the trials, who dabble in fortunetelling, spells, and other mischief. As Charity becomes more obsessed with the notion of Susannah’s inherent evil, Lucas takes up the story. He recounts his worries about Charity, his growing sexual attraction to Susannah, and the burgeoning hysteria in the village as more and more young girls begin behaving as if possessed. Accusations of witchcraft lead to Susannah’s imprisonment. A forgiving and insightful woman, she has never married but has had three lovers, acted on the London stage, and is beautiful, not helping her case in repressed Salem. Lucas is also jailed as the panicked citizenry beginimplicating the most unlikely people. Eventually, sanity returns, but not soon enough for some of the women of Salem.
Melodrama on the loose: neither entertaining nor persuasive.