Hour of the Witch is very good historical fiction. One of Bohjalian’s great strengths is his research; another is his sense of humanity. By the accretion of lavish detail, he’s able to show us a real world and the people who live in it. He also gives us someone with whom to empathize: Mary is admirable in her determination, independence and clearheadedness. At the same time, she is a person of her own time, and Bohjalian makes clear how the systems of that time work ... the tale is told against a solid background of domestic violence, female rivalries and solidarity, and an evenhanded sense of fairness regarding the community in which these events take place. The importance of the religious nature of daily life is woven into the story, not imposed upon it ... while the book is as thick with details as chowder is with clams, the specifics are handled with great skill and delicacy. The book is a thriller in structure, and a real page-turner, the ending both unexpected and satisfying.
Throughout Bohjalian’s prolific career, he has rewarded readers with indelibly drawn female protagonists, and the formidable yet vulnerable Mary Deerfield is a worthy addition to the canon. Conjuring up specters of #MeToo recriminations and social media shaming, there are twenty-first-century parallels to Bohjalian’s atmospheric Puritan milieu, and his trademark extensive research pays off in this authentic portrait of courage in the face of society’s worst impulses.
Bohjalian’s historical novel is full of twists and turns. Though not a typical suspense novel, the story has many of the page-turning plot lines of a thriller, and is sure to keep readers enthralled. Though it’s set in the 1600s, Mary’s story resonates today, as it addresses the role religious and societal expectations can play in the lives of individuals. A must-read and highly recommended.