The Wolves of Andover

The Wolves Of Andover is a prequel to Kathleen Kent’s best-selling first novel, The Heretic’s Daughter.  That story was set during the time of the Salem witch trials, and concerns the accused Martha Currier her brave young daughter, Sarah and the spectre of potentially fatal family secrets. Written with grace and lyricism, Kent's debut played out at a galloping pace that made for a fine first work of fiction.

 

The Wolves Of Andover steps back in time to tell Martha's back story as she comes of age in Colonial Massachusetts in the 1670s. The unmarried and seemingly unmarriageable Martha Allen is sent nearly as a servant to help out at her pregnant cousin's house. Past twenty years old, and considered a hopeless old maid, stubborn Martha is "passed like an old kettle" to the new family. Life is hard; luxuries, even pleasures are few. Wolves prowl the countryside, and Indians and deadly pox pose daily threats. Martha is haunted not only by these immediate dangers, but by memories of her own childhood abuse at the hands of a minister—a secret she reveals only to her hidden red notebook.

 

Martha is intrigued almost against her will by a tall Welshman named Thomas, handyman and laborer at her cousin's farm. Thomas may have secrets of his own, linking him dangerously to the death of King Charles. Meanwhile, a parallel plot shows us the seedy side of life in England under the second King Charles, who seeks vengeance for his father's murder. This subplot is surely the novel's weak link, filled as it is with villains who seem to have been sent over by Central Casting—the snarky servant to the king, the bloodthirsty bullies, the randy king etc. Altogether too much space is devoted to this British gang and their violent doings, making The Wolves Of Andover darker and more gruesome than it need be, and slowing the novel's pacing.

 

On the other hand, Kent is a master at conveying the details of life in seventeenth-century New England. The trading of two piglets for a bolt of fine wool; the slippery elm used to ease a newborn's passage; live traps set for marauding wolves. Moments such as these open a window onto both the world and the voice of Colonial America, as do some of Martha's musings: "the sorts of words that the Old Scotsmen still used were like pepperweed in a mutton stew." What's more, Martha is a genuinely engaging heroine, and Thomas emerges as a worthy counterpart. Their slow, reluctant but passionate courtship comes to life under Kent's hand: "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."

 

As passages such as the above indicate, The Wolves Of Andover will largely appeal to devotees of straightforward historical romance, though admirers of The Heretic's Daughter  may also welcome the chance to come to know Martha Currier better.  And the story, while at its center a predictable fulfillment of its heroine's deferred hopes, has one or two marvelous twists, including one hero hidden where you'd never expected to find him.

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