Author: Laurie Lico Albanese
Published by: St. Martin's Press on Oct. 4, 2022
Genres: Historical Fiction
Source: St. Martin's Press
Book Rating: 10/10
Isobel Gamble is a young seamstress carrying generations of secrets when she sets sail from Scotland in the early 1800s with her husband, Edward. An apothecary who has fallen under the spell of opium, his pile of debts have forced them to flee Edinburgh for a fresh start in the New World. But only days after they’ve arrived in Salem, Edward abruptly joins a departing ship as a medic––leaving Isobel penniless and alone in a strange country, forced to make her way by any means possible.
When she meets a young Nathaniel Hawthorne, the two are instantly drawn to each other: he is a man haunted by his ancestors, who sent innocent women to the gallows––while she is an unusually gifted needleworker, troubled by her own strange talents. As the weeks pass and Edward’s safe return grows increasingly unlikely, Nathaniel and Isobel grow closer and closer. Together, they are a muse and a dark storyteller; the enchanter and the enchanted. But which is which?
In this sensuous and hypnotizing tale, a young immigrant woman grapples with our country’s complicated past, and learns that America’s ideas of freedom and liberty often fall short of their promise. Interwoven with Isobel and Nathaniel’s story is a vivid interrogation of who gets to be a “real” American in the first half of the 19th century, a depiction of the early days of the Underground Railroad in New England, and atmospheric interstitials that capture the long history of “unusual” women being accused of witchcraft. Meticulously researched yet evocatively imagined, Hester is a timeless tale of art, ambition, and desire that examines the roots of female creative power and the men who try to shut it down.
A vivid reimagining of the woman who inspired Hester Prynne, the tragic heroine of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, and a journey into the enduring legacy of New England’s witchcraft trials.
Absorbing, multilayered, and moving!
Hester is an expressive, compelling tale set in Scotland and Salem during both the early 1800s and 1662 when religious condemnation and fear of the unknown was rife, women with special abilities were labelled witches, the Underground Railroad was working tirelessly to give slaves the freedom they so rightly deserved, cruel and barbaric behaviour towards women who didn’t conform to what society deemed norm was still acceptable, and love still managed to blossom everywhere even under the most unlikely of circumstances.
The prose is evocative and rich. The characters are strong, resilient, and haunted. And the plot is an engrossing tale about life, loss, friendship, family, determination, courage, self-identity, sexism, prejudice, poverty, survival, romance, and the beauty of colour.
Overall, Hester is a book you have to read to truly appreciate just how atmospheric, alluring, and beautifully written it is. It grabs you from the very first page and does a remarkable job of blending historical facts with captivating fiction that’s both intriguing, creative, and exceptionally immersive, especially for those who, like myself, are fans of Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter.
This novel is available now.
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Thank you to St. Martin’s Press for gifting me a copy in exchange for an honest review.