author: Chris Bohjalian
published: 4 May 2021
publisher: Doubleday Books
genre(s): historical, thrillers
buy/shelve it: Amazon | BookBub | BookHype | Goodreads
A young Puritan woman--faithful, resourceful, but afraid of the demons that dog her soul--plots her escape from a violent marriage in this riveting and propulsive historical thriller from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Flight Attendant.
Boston, 1662. Mary Deerfield is twenty-four years old. Her skin is porcelain, her eyes delft blue, and in England she might have had many suitors. But here in the New World, amid this community of saints, Mary is the second wife of Thomas Deerfield, a man as cruel as he is powerful. When Thomas, prone to drunken rage, drives a three-tined fork into the back of Mary's hand, she resolves that she must divorce him to save her life. But in a world where every neighbor is watching for signs of the devil, a woman like Mary--a woman who harbors secret desires and finds it difficult to tolerate the brazen hypocrisy of so many men in the colony--soon finds herself the object of suspicion and rumor. When tainted objects are discovered buried in Mary's garden, when a boy she has treated with herbs and simples dies, and when their servant girl runs screaming in fright from her home, Mary must fight to not only escape her marriage, but also the gallows. A twisting, tightly plotted thriller from one of our greatest storytellers, Hour of the Witch is a timely and terrifying novel of socially sanctioned brutality and the original American witch hunt.
❗❗ content warning: graphic violence, abuse ❗❗
a few notes
cover notes: eye-catching
keywords/phrases: Colonial, witch, murder, abuse
mood reading: in the mood for realistic historical fiction
bonus points: well researched
anti-bonus points: slow pace for first 50% or so
The story takes place in Boston in 1662, a time of change in the new world when the witch accusations were just beginning. The setting alone is enough to set the tone for the story, creating a sense of dark anticipation. The characterization of Mary—a beautiful and young woman who is married to an older man and who is a tad too defiant and outspoken—just adds to the tension.
This is far from a historical romance. The marriage between Mary and Thomas was not one she wanted, full of violence and fear. His abuse is born of anger and alcohol, and he’s a misogynist and a sadist to the core. He’s also powerful in their community, putting Mary in even more of a tenuous position when she tries desperately to escape his treatment of her. Between his place in society and her well-known rebellious nature, that is not so simple a process. All of this comes together with some interesting twists and turns to put Mary, the victim, at risk of losing her life as an accused witch.
The only issue I truly had with the book was the incredibly slow first half or so. The author painted a detailed portrait of life in the time period, describing the people and ideology. And while that was interesting, it did drag down the pace of the rest of the book. But the second half truly made up for it!
“Yes, this may be the hour of the witch. But the Devil? He most definitely wears breeches. The Devil can only be a man.”
“She was sent to the scaffold because she had a sharper tongue and a shrewder mind than her accusers. It is always the case when men hang women.”
“A small thing, yes, but the world was rich with small things that in truth were signs of great importance.”
“Cruelty may be defined as violence without provocation and discipline that is excessive.”
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