The Wolves of Andover (abandoned)

Two years ago, Kathleen Kent’s debut novel, The Heretic’s Daughter, seemed to be everywhere—and everyone who read it seemed to love it. Personally, I wasn’t all that interested in it. The Salem witch trials just seemed at the time like ground that was too well-trod. Plus, U.S. Colonial history is just not my thing. I may take a slightly stronger interest in Colonial fiction set in Virginia, because I went to school in Virginia’s version of Colonial History Land (aka Williamsburg), but mostly it’s not an era that calls out to me.

I say all that to explain why I probably wasn’t the ideal audience for The Wolves of Andover, Kent’s prequel to her best-selling debut. I hadn’t read the first book, I’m not that interested in the period, and, as regular Shelf Love readers will know, I can be crotchety about wildly popular books. Why did I even bother with this book? Well, the Little, Brown representative at the ALA conference gave it a strong recommendation and handed me an advance copy. So many people loved Kent’s previous book that I figured I ought to give it a fair chance. After all, sometimes the masses are absolutely right!

Most of the novel is set in mid-17th-century Massachusetts. Nineteen-year-old Martha Allen has come to work at her pregnant cousin’s home. She quickly establishes that she is not to be a mere servant but that she expects to have some authority over the running of the house. The work is hard, and it becomes harder when a pack of wolves move into the area. The hired man Thomas Carrier takes charge of capturing the wolves, but Martha finds Thomas’s attitude and actions inexplicably exasperating. Meanwhile, in England, a group of assassins is preparing to journey to Massachusetts to find Thomas Morgan, one of the men purportedly responsible for the execution of Charles I during the English Civil War.

The story itself had some potential, but it’s not an area of obvious interest for me. Therefore, the characters or the writing needed to really draw me in, and they just didn’t. The characters are not exactly types, which is good, but they also don’t have much personality. There are some attempts to flesh Martha out, with her worries about her future as an unmarried woman and her push to establish authority, but the attempt feels half-hearted. Perhaps people who’ve read the first book, about Martha’s later life, will already have a stake in her situation, but encountering her for the first time, I just couldn’t summon up a reason to care. The English assassins are given a bit more life, but there are too many of them. If, as I suspect, this is really Martha and Thomas’s story, I’m not sure why we need to meet all six assassins, the man who hired them, the man who hired him, the woman who tried to work the situation to her advantage, and the king himself.

As for the writing, Kent attempts to use a sort of watered-down Colonial speech, and is reasonably successful. I say it’s watered down, not because it’s badly done, but because it isn’t precisely true to period. That was not a bad choice because authentic language would be difficult for the modern reader to understand. Unfortunately, Kent also has a tendency to overwrite. There are just too many metaphors and descriptive details—they end up getting in the way of plot and character development, and the language is not lovely enough to be a pleasure in itself.

And in a related note, has anyone else noticed how many historical fiction authors are obsessed with bodily fluids and offal? I realize that some of this is to give modern readers a sense of the nasty sights and smells of the time, but I’m not sure the people of the time would always be thinking about it. Wouldn’t it just be part of the background after a while and not worthy of much thought?

Anyway, after 85 of 300 pages, I found I didn’t care enough to read further. Given the reaction to The Heretic’s Daughter, I imagine lots of people will love it (although the few reviews I’ve seen indicate that this is not quite as good as Kent’s earlier effort). As for me, I’m reminded that sometimes I just need to listen to my gut and not let people talk me into books I don’t think are quite right for me.

Other Bloggers’ Views

Amy Reads: “Overall, a great read, though I still recommend that you read The Heretic’s Daughter first!”

Devourer of Books: “Ultimately I can recommend The Wolves of Andover to those with an interest in this historical period, but I do not believe it is as strongly plotted as The Heretic’s Daughter.

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25 Responses to The Wolves of Andover (abandoned)

  1. JoV says:

    I wasn’t that crazy about Heretic’s daughter either. Glad you drop it. Life is too short.

  2. softdrink says:

    I loved The Heretic’s Daughter, but like you, I gave up on this one at about the same spot. I thought it was boring.

  3. I loved The Heretic’s Daughter, although it’s not a period I’m all that interested in. I was sad that I didn’t manage to snag a copy of this one at BEA, but maybe it’s not such a big loss…

  4. I really want to read The Heretic’s Daughter. I think I’ll probably go for that one before deciding either way whether I want to give this one a chance.

  5. Eva says:

    >>As for me, I’m reminded that sometimes I just need to listen to my gut and not let people talk me into books I don’t think are quite right for me.

    I’m slowly getting better at this. I’m quite proud of myself for abandoning The Tricking of Freya after realising that as much as I wanted to like it, it was actually driving me insane. lol

    Also, >>I can be crotchety about wildly popular books is exactly how I feel! About new releases, anyway. When a classic suddenly takes the blogosphere by storm, I sit up and take notice. ;)

    Guess what I’ll be picking up on my library visit tomorrow? The Meaning of Night! Can’t wait to give it a try. (Keeping my expectations in check, though, since you mentioned once that it’s not quite as good as Waters.)

    • Teresa says:

      I always want to be open-minded and try things other people like, even when I’m skeptical, but I need to keep telling myself I know my own tastes better than anyone!

      And I’m glad I’m not alone on the wildly popular books! Once dozens and dozens of people start saying everyone will love a particular book (especially a new book), I start to develop an attitude of wanting to prove them wrong, LOL.

      One of the reasons I like to get a review copy now and then is that I can read a new book before I get jaded by the praise. Otherwise, I like to wait a couple of years so the chatter can die down and I can approach it with a fresh attitude. Or I wait for reviews from people who tend to share my skepticism.

      And yay for The Meaning of Night! I really, really hope you like it.

  6. It was about halfway through before the book picked up for me, so I don’t blame you (or Jill) for giving up when you did, but it did get better.

    • Teresa says:

      I always wonder if I’m giving up just before things take off. I’m glad it did get better, but my eyes glaze over just looking at the cover now, which is never a good sign :-)

  7. trapunto says:

    Yes! I’ve often thought that about the whole “dodging contents of dumped chamber pots” type writers. I’m not always as charitable as you. I think it gives some of them a thrill of naughty authenticity. “Hee, hee! I can write about ****! And nobody can complain!”

    • Teresa says:

      Oh, you are making me laugh so hard! I do think Kent was going for authenticity and just went a little overboard, but some authors do seem to revel in the nastiness. I’ve said that very thing about Crimson Petal and the White.

  8. amymckie says:

    Sorry to hear you didn’t like this. It took quite a bit for it to pick up for me as well – I only stuck with it because I really liked the first book. No book can do it for everyone :)

    Thanks for the link too, btw!

    • Teresa says:

      I do think my lack of previous experience with the characters was a huge barrier. If I already had some interest in Martha and Thomas, I would have been more motivated to go on.

  9. Annabel says:

    I thought the Heretics Daughter was OK but not fantastic, so I don’t think I’ll bother with this one.

  10. Deb says:

    I usually give up on historical fiction that seems obsessed with bathroom functions. Yes, we all know that people had to use chamber pots and, at some point, those chamber pots needed to be emptied, but let’s move on to the story which, presumably, is not about bodily functions in past centuries (at least, I hope it isn’t!).

    • Teresa says:

      LOL. Let’s hope the story isn’t about bodily functions! I wouldn’t call Kent obsessed here, but there was enough talk of nasty odors for me to notice.

  11. The word “wolves” in the title would have kept me from ever picking this one up. And The Heretic’s Daughter falls into that daughter/wife category of titles that I avoid. Don’t I have a sophisticated method for avoiding books?

  12. CARL SHOUN says:

    As a male I offer up that Kent is one of the few female authors that seem to capture the essence of the opposite sex. I also often find that male authors lack the ability to do the opposite. I found this novel fascinating and was not so caught up in its authenticity for the language of the period. Have you ever tried to read Hardy? As far as an overindulgence in bathroom functions, how trite! Hygiene of the past further establishes the time period written about. Stick with Jane Austen where everyone smells like a rose even without the advantages of daily baths and indoor plumbing. How realistic. But I digress. Kent nails it if you like adventure, romance, character building and historical semi-fiction all rolled into one. And my dears, the fact that the book was so popular was that it deserved to be.

    • Teresa says:

      I’m glad to hear that you enjoyed this. I do think that my experience was largely due to book and reader mismatch, not because Kent wrote a terrible book. I didn’t so much find it terrible as not right for me. I would much rather have been reading Hardy, who is actually one of my favorite authors.

      As for the aside in my review about smells, etc. I’m not going to let that put me off a book that I’m otherwise enjoying, unless it’s over the top, which it wasn’t here–it was just pushing it a bit, in my view, and I was curious as to what others thought.

  13. Lisa says:

    I made it to page 90 of The Wolves of Andover and I said “Really?” It was for a project so I HAD to read all of it. It was torture to me :(. I just had a problem with all the sexual references in the story. I
    personally don’t want to hear about people sleeping with (pardon my language) whores every other chapter.

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