Book review: Father of Lies by Ann Turner

Synopsis:

Truth or Lies?

Lidda knew, with a clarity that was like a candle in a dark room, that all had changed; something was loosed in the village—Devil or not—and they would pay for it, every last man, woman, and child.

Fourteen-year-old Lidda has always known she was different. She longs to escape Salem Village and its stifling rules—to be free to dance, to sing, to live as she chooses. But when a plague of accusations descends on the village and witch fever erupts, Lidda begins to realize that she feels and sees things that others can’t, or won’t. But how will she expose the truth without being hung as a witch herself?

Review:

 There are few moments in American history that contain more sinister drama than the Salem witch trials, which is why I am so disappointed that Father of Lies doesn’t manage to capture it. Historical fiction, when at its best, creates a bridge between the time period in which it’s set and today’s readers. We get to see how much we have in common with our ancestors and we are able to identify with them. History comes alive.

Father of Lies fails to do this for several reasons. Lidda is a mostly flat character surrounded by a one-dimensional supporting cast. It’s almost as if the author got too bogged down in research and getting the facts right, that she forgot to inject some creative license. It’s like reading a list: first this person caught “witch fever” and accused someone. Then so-and-so. And then this person, too. What we get is the same scene repeated over and over with little variation. The “good stuff” gets skimmed right over — including the dramatic conclusion. I will say that the book’s conclusion is good, but that’s just it: Things start getting interesting and it ends.

I was also a little put-off by the author’s heavy-handed interpretation. We are told in no uncertain terms what actually happened in Salem. We are not left to draw our own conclusions. Other popular explanations for the infamous witch hunt and subsequent hangings are brought forward in a sort of epilogue from the author called, “What is true and what is not true.” It’s too bad none of these possibilities are explored in the story itself.

That said, Father of Lies might be a good resource for middle-grade history buffs-in-the-making. It might even be useful in the classroom, as it shows the progression of “witch fever” in Salem and does a good job describing what life was like in Colonial America, especially for girls and women. It is the oppressive societal norms that made power a very heady, dangerous thing when granted to a handful of young girls with wild imaginations.

Father of Lies will be in bookstores Feb. 8.

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