At the beginning of Kern’s (Wanting to be Jackie Kennedy, 2011) novel, Mercy Goodhue may be only 14 years old, but when she sees her father, a shipwright, examining the family’s financial ledgers, she recognizes the seriousness of his worried expression. In the 1629 town of Boston in Lincolnshire, England, a letter arrives from “lawyer and manor lord” John Winthrop, offering the family a chance to join his chartered voyage to the strange new world of Massachusetts. Mercy’s parents choose to see it as a gift of fortune, a chance to start their lives over and perhaps make their fortune. After the long sea crossing, they and the other settlers draw up off the coast of Nova Scotia as they prepare to make the final journey to the land they will call New England, with Mercy and her family among the group assembled to hear Winthrop, now governor, give his famous “city upon a hill” speech, urging the Pilgrims to undertake their mission in a spirit of fellowship. With patient care and thorough research, Kern takes readers through the founding days of the new city of Boston on what was then called the Shawmut Peninsula, from the earliest struggles for food and shelter to the town’s slow prospering in the face of hardships. “Outside our doors we know not what spirits, animals, or Indians lurk in the darkness, their appetites primed to devour us,” Mercy writes to a friend back in England. “At night the wolves howl wildly and the wind whistles through the cracks in our walls.” As time passes, Mercy grudgingly comes to like the imperious midwife Goody Hammer (one of the book’s most memorable characters) and to love young Joshua Hoyt, who becomes her husband. More immigrants arrive from England, including Anne Hutchinson, later famously tried for heresy and banished from the colony, and Kern renders it all—the seasons, the clothing, the food, the mental preoccupations, the shaping of society—with solid pacing and in pleasing detail.
A winning novel of ordinary people in an extraordinary new world.