The Wolves of Andover: A Novel, by Kathleen Kent – Book Review

The Wolves of Andover

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.

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Review copy.

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21 Comments

  1. I’m not much of a Hist/LitFic reader but this one is based in the town I grew up in so I’ll definitely be picking it up to read it at some point. 🙂

  2. I have been meaning to pick this authors books. I have read wonderful reviews of her 1st book but I did not know this was based on her ancestors. Wow!

    I am putting this one as well in my TBR.

  3. I think you liked this better than I did, but I definitely agree they should be read in publication order. I think Martha might have seemed a little flat without knowledge of what comes later in her life.

    1. I think I can agree with that. There was no way I could separate out the Martha from Heretic so that probably added too my reading of her. That’s an interesting thing about prequels.

  4. Fantastic review, I think you are right that The Heretic’s Daughter wouldn’t be nearly as good of a read if read after this one.

  5. Welcome back, I have just gotten back into historical fiction. I’m going to have to look for this author. This series sounds interesting.

  6. Two books to add to the wish list from one post!?!?!?! Glad to hear there is an actual order I should read them in. I always get a little tense when the publication order and the chronological order differ. I end up spending way too much time trying to decide which to read first. I know, I know, it’s a bit anal retentive.

  7. I couldn’t finish this one. I got about 100 pages in and realized I didn’t care about what was going to happen…because nothing was happening!

  8. I will be posting my review this week too – about 3 weeks late! We had a wonderful discussion with the author (will post audio to iTunes late today).

    I agree with you – I think it’s important to read The Heretic’s Daughter first.

  9. It’s my understanding that there’s a gap in the story between this one and The Heretic’s Daughter. I wonder if Kent is going to write a third book to fill that time period.

  10. Both of Kent’s novels are on my shelf and my TBR for 2011. I’m really looking forward to them. Thanks for the tip regarding reading them in order of publication; I’ll be sure to do that.

  11. You’ve given me two good books to add to my list. I always say I love historical fiction but find that I have read very little of it these past few years. I hope to remedy that in 2011.

  12. Since I have this on audio waiting to be listened to, I had to skip to the end. So happy to see that it’s going to be worth the journey.

  13. I haven’t read the first book but just finished my review of this one. I liked it okay but didn’t love it. Ummm…. I loved the characters and the details and the setting but the story itself did not knock me over.

  14. I had to give up part way through Heretic – boo. It didn’t appeal to me at all, though pleased that others enjoyed it. As I often say, If we all liked the same thing there’d be a terrible crowd at my house. Or yours. Wolves sounds good so I think I’ll take a shot at it. Some times ‘slow moving’ is all right, mostly it depends on the skill of the author. IMO anyway – LOL