Admittedly, I’m a little obsessed with some of the darker periods of history. Spanish Inquisition, witch hunts, the Mormon Mountain Meadows massacre…
Okay, it’s morbid.
However, I feel that these are great fodder for writers of historical fiction. Even if some have been beaten like a dead horse…
Susanna Morrow by Megan Chance
Warner Books, 2002
Courtesy of Amazon.com:
From Publishers Weekly
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.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
First off, I’ll say I’m probably a little Salem-witch-trialed-out for a while. How many different ways can you approach a subject so well documented? Perhaps a little post-apocalyptic fiction next time.
Strengths: I will agree with part of the review from Publisher’s Weekly: I do feel the title character, Susannah, was “intriguing and well-drawn.” I find her free-spiritedness and voice of reason refreshing–so often the characters in these books may be noble, but are also natives of the region and largely born of the same religious hysteria that gave rise to the witch trials to begin with. I loved the cover, which dares to show Susannah, however completely clad, as something sensual and alive (I did NOT like the mass-market paperback cover–it looks very dated, and I’d have never wanted to pick it up–go for the hardcover or the trade-size.) I did like the multifaceted narrative, which includes a male perspective we don’t usually see in these sorts of books. Chance is an established romance author (see http://www.amazon.com/Megan-Chance/e/B000AP9DIK/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1 ), which I normally feel bleeds through too much and comes at the price of historical accuracy; however, in the case of this book, I found the love story to be sweet, more mature–not your traditional over-the-top romantic fare.
Potential Flaws: I don’t necessarily see the story as “oddly flat.” However, I absolutely LOATHED the character of Susannah’s niece and accuser, Charity. And not in the good way in which I love to hate flawed characters. I just couldn’t stand her–which is unfortunate, since her narrative takes up pretty much the first half of the book. In that respect, Charity’s development was predictable, almost pedestrian. Of course, what did I expect? The story’s history is pretty much established. I think I longed for Chance to in some way surprise me, to present one of the accusing girls as perhaps more human than what other authors portray. It was not to be. Further, I truly wanted Susannah’s portion of the narrative to become a greater part of the book; it was the shortest portion, told in the darkest time of the witch trials, during her time in jail–also predictable. I felt that Chance in some respects cheated Susannah and didn’t give her the voice that really deserved to be heard.
I felt I really needed to give a split rating here:
For the first half, I was just underwhelmed. Could NOT get past detesting Charity.
For the second half, and for Chance’s lovely characterization of Susannah.