Susannah Phillips lives in 1640s Massachusetts Bay Colony, and is growing impatient to wed Jon Prescotte once his family problems are resolved. But the increasing attentions of Simeon Wright, an influential townsman, have become troublesome. Rumors of cruelty towards his mother, capped with his arrogance, are disturbing. Then yet another man enters the picture. The Boston authorities send Captain Daniel Holcombe to Stoneybrooke to train the men so that they may be better prepared against Indian attacks. Holcombe is quartered on the Phillipses, and his non-Puritan ideas about salvation and God’s love cause Susannah to question the religious notions she has been taught. Then the rejected Wright causes Susannah to be accused of murder, which brings matters to a head.
This book held several surprises for me: its unusual setting, the tackling of domestic abuse in an historical context, and the unexpected death of a major character. Mitchell makes 17th-century domestic details memorable: it was a regular household duty for members of the family to delouse each other’s hair, for example. And I hadn’t realized what a disaster it would have been for a woman of the day to use up the last of her dough starter, or to let a fire go out.
A small problem was the dual points of view between Susannah and a reclusive woman named Small-Hope, whose past is finally revealed during events leading up to the trial. It was not always easy to figure out which of the two women was speaking. But the good characterizations trump that minor issue, and I intend to watch for the sequel presumably in the works. The last chapter is open-ended enough that Mitchell must be planning to continue Susannah’s story, and I’d like to find out what happens to her. Excellent Christian fiction.