Book Review – Hester

Title: Hester

Author: Laurie Lico Albanese

Genre: Historical Fiction

Goodreads Rating: 4.23

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Source: ARC


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

My Review:

I’d like to thank Duckworth Books for sending me a proof of this gorgeous book in exchange for my review. I love historical fiction and was looking forward to diving into this beauty. I have started to grow a slight obsession with books that tell the stories of the Salem witch trials. I find it fascinating what constituted a witch in those days and dread to think what would happen now if those rules still applied.

Our protagonist Isobel is a character you can’t help but love and want to see succeed. From disguising the colours she sees to her masterful creations it is clear that Isobel is a woman of many talents. I admired her determination to succeed and pave her own way in Salem, despite the challenges she faced.

What I thought was telling about Isobel’s character was the support she found towards the end of the book. From Nell to Captain Darling and the candid Mercy, she had a lot of people willing to put themselves at risk to save her.

The romance between herself and Nat was a whirlwind that was clearly doomed from the start. Part of me did hope she would find a happy ending with him but giving the families they were from I knew the chances were small.

This story was filled with colour. The gentle weaving of needlework and magic was beautifully executed and really brought the story to life. The ancestors stories and the horrors they faced showed how much women endured during that time but how that stigma had become attached to people in the 1800’s.


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