In this prequel to The Heretic’s Daughter (2008), Kent tells the fictionalized story of her ancestor Martha Carrier’s courtship with her future husband years before she became a victim of the Salem Witch Trials.
In 1673, Martha’s father sends her to help her pregnant cousin Patience, whose husband Daniel is often away from the family’s farm near Andover. He’s also hoping she’ll find a proper suitor among the local clergy. Instead she’s drawn to one of the two indentured hired men on the farm. An unusually tall Welshman approaching 50, Thomas Carrier carries himself with an air of mystery and authority that intrigues Martha despite herself, especially after he kills the wolves menacing the farm. Those wolves, which Martha dangerously approaches before Thomas shoots them, resemble the band of assassins sent to Massachusetts from London by a minion of King Charles II, who wants to avenge the death of his father, the Catholic Charles I killed by Cromwell. The book cuts between Martha’s growing relationship with Thomas and the assassins’ ill-fated mission as the killers drop off one by one, victims of double-cross, drowning, poison and warring Indians. Martha soon learns that Thomas served as the King’s guard as a youth before joining Cromwell’s cause. He was indeed the one who brought the ax down on Charles I’s head, but he later lost faith in Cromwell when he saw him becoming a despot. As the surviving assassin draws closer, Martha—who has her own secret—fears she has inadvertently betrayed Thomas’s secret when Patience finds the diary in which Martha wrote down his story. But Daniel, like most of his neighbors, is a staunch defender of Protestantism. For all his evil, diabolic planning, the assassin never has a chance.
Kent has more fun with the Londoners—Johnny Depp could play almost any of the baddies—than her somewhat morose ancestors, but she lovingly captures their daily grind and brings looming dangers, whether man or beast, to harrowing life.