Martha Allen has fewer comforts than most in the harsh wilds of colonial Massachusetts. A plain face and prickly personality has kept her unmarried, and as a result she is hired out as a servant to earn her keep among neighboring families by her strict father. While working in her cousin’s chaotic household, Martha, who can’t help by vie for dominance in every situation she encounters, meets Thomas Carrier. Noted as a giant of a man, and also one of few words, Thomas is honest, resourceful and hard working. Martha wins Thomas’s grudging respect in the aftermath of a troubling household incident, and they slowly forge a bond strong enough to survive the threat from Thomas’s English past, which is on the verge of catching up with him and ruining them all.
The Wolves of Andover: A Novel is the sophomore historical fiction from writer Kathleen Kent, who once again turns to the examination of her familial history to elicit the uniquely complex courtship of ancestors Martha Carrier (née Allen) and Thomas Carrier (rumored to be the executioner of King Charles the First of England). This novel, much like her first, The Heretic’s Daughter, is intricately woven and beautifully rendered. An engrossing history lesson masquerading as a novel, or maybe vice versa, each sentence paints a careful picture of life in this time period and the risks Carrier faced as a regicide. Kent plays with her artistry and take risks in her presentation of the narrative. Thomas and Martha’s story alternates with an ever changing cast of characters – the leader of a group of assassins, and ambitious barmaid, and a mute ship’s boy among others. Through them, Kent presents a different piece of the events and circumstances set in motion to bring Thomas to justice for killing the English King. The alternations provide an intense narrative tension because as Martha and Thomas’ relationship progresses, so does the plot set in motion to bring Thomas down. Kent’s skill with characterization is not insignificant because even though I was yanked from the leads to explore these other points of view, I became absorbed in their stories as well.
While The Wolves of Andover is technically a prequel, I think it benefits readers to experience them in the order in which they were published. It makes sense to me that The Heretic’s Daughter came first. Martha Carrier as experienced by her daughter is somewhat of an unknown quantity – misunderstood, yet capable of deep convictions and even deeper love. The origins of that woman are revealed in his book, which is essentially a love story. The awesome and unwavering love of both Thomas and Martha for each other is developing here, but also that of the family they will build together, and the strength for the storms they will weather. I was very deeply touched by this family and their story, and Kent is a writer I will always look to read. While this is a story of great beauty, it is not something that I would recommend reading if you are looking for something to happen. You will be disappointed! This is a novel that very much revels in the minute details that make a life, the implications of small day-to-day habits and decisions – it quietly unfolds and reveals itself. It was a piece that I didn’t gobble down, but savored over the weeks it took for me to reach its completion – and I loved every minute.