Review: The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent

Source:  Review: The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent    Tag:  smallpox description
Perhaps it’s just because I recently read Germs, Genes, and Civilization but I was a little disappointed to see the author get her plagues mixed up. The book opens in 1690 with the onset of an illness of the main character’s brother. It’s named as smallpox but the author then goes on to describe what sounds more like the Bubonic plague (black death) than smallpox. The main character talks of how entire families would wake up healthy in the morning and all be dead by nightfall; this is a completely inaccurate description of smallpox. By 1690, smallpox was not that fatal - the mortality rate was only about 30% so the likelihood of an entire family perishing from it was small. Furthermore, smallpox does not kill this quickly, death usually occurs after about two weeks from onset. All of this IS an accurate description of the bubonic plague though. The only thing that didn’t sound like the black death was the mention of the pustules on the face. Sounds like the author either didn’t do her research well enough or got mixed up in the process of her research.

Granted, I did consider that it was being told from the point of view of a small child and perhaps the author intended it as the child who got confused with the stories of the bubonic plague and smallpox. But you’d think if that were the case, the narration would mention that later in life the girl realize her mix up so that readers don’t get confused.

(Btw, I’m not considering this a spoiler since it occurs in the opening chapter and is mentioned in the very first paragraph).

I was also a little perplexed to find a randomly thrown in passage written in present tense near the end when the rest of the book was in past tense. I’m guessing the author was trying to distinguish the moment but it felt more jarring and out of place to me.

So why am I giving it 4 stars? Because the book is otherwise very well written with excellent, complex characters and a great plot. Though it is slow paced and there’s a lot of internal dialogue, it’s not boring - it's very emotionally powerful.