Hour of the Witch
Here’s an excellent historical suspense set in 1662 Boston about twenty-four-year-old Mary Deerfield, who is desperate to get away from a violent marriage. When the court magistrates deny a petition for divorce, Mary must return to her husband. Fearful of more cruelty, Mary plots her escape, while mounting evidence of witchcraft threatens to send her to her death.
I enjoyed reading about this time period in early America and how Puritans used God and the Devil to explain things that happened in their lives. Mary is sure she has been framed, but even she secretly wonders if she is possessed by the Devil. The author also highlights the treatment of women during Puritan times. Although her husband is violent, the odds are against Mary when she petitions for a divorce. From the beginning, readers see that Mary is strong-willed and resourceful. She’s willing to accept being ostracized if her divorce is granted, a difficult future, but better than her marriage.
Ultimately, even though her father and one of the magistrates believe her husband has mistreated her, they support the Puritan rules. The reason? Back then, it was acceptable for a husband to physically discipline his wife if it was to teach her to be a good “helpmeet” and to follow the laws of God. Better to send Mary back to her husband to work things out, they reason.
In addition, readers get a closer look at the harsh punishments for other infractions, such as adultery. Anyone suspected or caught in adultery had to face the stocks and a whipping. The author also shows how, although the Puritans relied on herbal remedies and medicines, they feared that those administering them were witches.
I enjoyed this account of Puritan New England, when the fear of God and the Devil ruled. Truly a page-turner, readers will need to untangle characters’ complicated motives and the mystery of the witchcraft evidence. The reward is a better historical understanding of these early settlers’ lives.
This book is a lot different from the other books I’ve read by Chris Bohjalain. It’s much meatier and more historical, although I’ve only read three others, so I’m not an expert. I read Double Bind a long time ago, so it’s not here on my blog, but you can check out these others, which I thought were very good:
Have you read Hour of the Witch or any other books by Chris Bohjalian? Leave a comment!
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