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This historical novel is interesting on several levels. It is a cracking good love story; a prequel to the popular The Heretic's Daughter, which was set during the time of the Salem witch trials; a story that tells of the young unmarried and seemingly unmarriageable Martha Allen; and a story of intrigue set in both Restoration England and Colonial Massachusetts in the 17th century. The recently restored King Charles II is seeking revenge for the death of his father, and to that end has dispatched assassins to the colonies to find and punish the culprits who participated in the regicide. The action occurs in both the castles of England and the rough farm houses of New England.
Once upon a time wolves still lurked in the shadows of the forests surrounding the farms in coastal Massachusetts and threatened the animals of the farmers who had carved out homes and fields from those forests. Martha lives on such a farm, sent there to help her cousin who is in the final months of a pregnancy. Slowly she becomes attracted to Thomas Carrier, a hired man with a past. While they sort out their relationship, hired assassins are dispatched to find and kill the men who executed Charles II in the English civil war.
Kent weaves these two strands - England and the King's conspirators, Massachusetts and the ancestors of Kathleen Kent – into a brilliant tapestry of life, friendship, intrigue, violence and love. Life is hard in the primitive colony. Wolves prowl the countryside as do the original inhabitants of the "new world" as well as the King's men who like wolves are there to seek prey. Secrets abound. Some of the colonists are on the King's payroll; some events in Martha's background are so dark she has told no one of them except the red diary she keeps hidden under her mattress. Thomas, the tall Welshman handyman and laborer at Martha's cousin's farm, too, has dark secrets hidden in the past and in a seaman's chest. The heroes of the piece are well developed characters presented with exquisite detail (trading two piglets for a bolt of fine wool, live traps set for the marauding wolves) and a deft touch at bringing the novel's time to life. Martha is an engaging heroine, independent and strong, and Thomas a worthy counterpart. Their courtship is slowly developed as they find more and more in common. Until finally, "She wound her arms more tightly around his neck, impressing herself onto him, promising to wear the unintended bruises like the flags of a new country."
The plot and subplot are handled with skill. The reader, Ellen Archer, is so skilled that the listener is always aware of the characters and of the setting. The publisher's page has this:
In the harsh wilderness of colonial Massachusetts, Martha Allen works as a servant in her cousin's household, taking charge and locking wills with everyone. Thomas Carrier labors for the family and is known both for his immense strength and size and mysterious past. The two begin a courtship that suits their independent natures, with Thomas slowly revealing the story of his part in the English Civil War. But in the rugged new world they inhabit, danger is ever present, whether it be from the assassins sent from London to kill the executioner of Charles I or the wolves-in many forms-who hunt for blood. A love story and a tale of courage, The Wolves of Andover confirms Kathleen Kent's ability to craft powerful stories of family from colonial history.
The novel is labeled historical fiction, but the central story revolves around the author's real life ancestor, Martha Carrier, who was hanged as a witch in the Salem witch trials. The villains are villainous, the lovers passionate, the dangers dangerous, the language appropriate and fresh, the animal metaphors vivid and useful, and the setting(s) realistic.
Note that the paperback version of this novel will be released under the title The Traitor's Wife: A Novel.
© 2011 Bob Lane
Bob Lane is an Honorary Research Associate in Philosophy and Literature at Vancouver Island University in British Columbia.