Hester

Rating: 4 out of 5.
Laurie Lico Albanese, Expected in October of 2022

What if Nathaniel Hawthorne based Hester Prynne, the beleagured main character of his novel The Scarlet Letter, on a real woman in his life? Laurie Lico Albanese’s imagininings provide one possible answer to this question in her upcoming novel Hester.

Isobel Gamble, a gifted seamstress and embroiderer married to apothecary Edward Gamble, meets young Nathaniel Hawthorne shortly after her ship reaches Salem in 1829. Of course there’s a story in their meeting and interactions, but that relationship is just one of Isobel’s deep and trusting friendships which serve as the impetus for a deepening plot and an unexpected turn of events. Readers will find themselves moving a little closer to the edges of their seats at Hesters unexpectededly heady culmination, followed by the exhilaration of another sea voyage and a gratifying conclusion – one that has less to do with Hawthorne than a reader might expect.

The first few chapters of Hester are rough, with their folksy references to Isobel’s synesthesia (explained in a note at the beginning of the book), which her Mam calls “the colors.” There are mysteriously veiled warnings from Isobel’s elders who caution her to hide her magic to avoid being shunned by the folk who populate young Isobel’s world.  Tropes like this can work if preceded by a lot of world-building and context, but placed so close to the beginning of the book, the narrative in those first chapters is almost funny, reducing a potentially five-star review to four stars.

You may find yourself wondering if any of these denizens of Salem actually existed, and you’ll be gratified to see that the author answers this question – and maybe some others – in her notes at the end of the book. 

Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press, who provided the Advance Readers Copy I used to write this review.

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