This is the time of year, in Tonawanda, NY when it's 10 degrees out, and I want to stay in and do nothing but read under the covers, but...

The Hour of the Witch: Is Never Ending

This is the time of year, in Tonawanda, NY when it's 10 degrees out, and I want to stay in and do nothing but read under the covers, but first I watched all the Harry Potter movies ~ because let's be real ~ they are Christmas movies, and rewatched The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies because I want to be in another time and place. So I was reaching for escapism when I plucked The Hour of the Witch: A Novel by Chris Bohjalian from the mountain of books at my bedside. It brought me back to my vacations to Salem, but also to a much darker place that I wasn't looking for.

The Hour of the Witch checks my fav boxes for books... historical fiction check, witches check, 1600 New England check. It follows the story of Mary Deerfield a devout Christian wife who traveled from England in the hopes of living in "heaven on earth" in the new world, unfortunately she marries Thomas, a mill owner that's twice her age and abusive. Trigger warning: he's very physically and verbally abusive to her behind closed doors in the hopes that he can stop her from independent thought and "break her like a mare".

Peregrine is the daughter from Thomas's first marriage, and around the same age as Mary. She has a nice husband and two beautiful children. It's said her mother was kicked by a horse and died from a broken neck. Thomas shot the horse to show how much he cared, not for the horse, but for what it did to his wife. You can read into that or make your own assumptions.

The book is written from Mary's point of view, and we see her thoughts as they come up. I was surprised that although this takes place in the 1660s, her thoughts are still current and understandable today. She second guesses herself, feeling like the abuse is deserved. They've been married five years and have no children, so she's blamed for being barren. She struggles with trying not to be envious of other women with children. Her focus is just trying to be an obedient wife and devout Christian, but by the end of the book you see a change in her.

She finds two three tine forks and a pestle buried in her front yard. Well, three tine forks ~ as we all know ~ are the mark of the Devil. Seriously, though, many of the locals thought that then. This triggers Mary to begin questioning those around her. Who is the witch trying to curse her? Is it her and she doesn't remember? The gaslighting is strong. 

Mary's final straw is when Thomas stabs her hand with one of the forks, breaking bones. She leaves him that night to stay with her affluent parents, and decides that she can no longer live with him since she fears for her life and his abuse keeps escalating. She wants a divorce.

A divorce back then really had to be proven worthy and granted by the magistrate. Even with her family's wealth being influential among the judges, and evidence of his abuse, there were no witnesses to his temper and everyone attests to Thomas' good character. He shot the horse after all. The proceedings last two days with accusations in between of Mary being an adulterer since an admirer, named Henry, a handsome nephew of merchants near the docks that are friends with her parents, kissed her, and witch since she was seen talking to a Constance, a questionable woman who was friends with a hanged witch, and to top it off she has three tine forks in her house ~ the Devil's instrument. 

Her parents, though on her side, seem to have made a pact with Thomas behind Mary's back. They want her to go back home to him, so she isn't tried as a witch and hanged. Mary dreams of leaving Thomas, taking 1/3 of his wealth, and marrying Henry. He lights a spark in her she has never felt before. He's closer to her age and adores her. Furthermore, he takes the blame for the kiss and gets sentenced to fifteen lashes in the stocks.

In a predictable blow, the magistrate decides not to grant her a divorce.

Mary goes back to her marriage prison with Thomas and the abuse continues. Now Thomas is threatening Henry too, and Mary's witchy wiles are awakened. At this point, she feels it can't get any worse, so why not be accused of witchcraft? Her fondness for Henry never falters, and she tries to find out exactly who has cursed her. In the meantime, she visits Constance, on the outskirts of town for advice. With her guidance, Mary concocts a plan to poison her husband and blame it on their servant. In the end, she can't go through with it, and the tables turn once again. Mary is accused of witchcraft and put in jail.

The mystery unravels if you are paying attention, and Mary figures it out too. I loved it. The last few chapters end in a flourish of events. It was riveting, and I couldn't wait to find out what Mary was thinking. Part mystery, thriller, and love story, I won't give the ending away, but it's definitely very satisfying, although sad what women endure, even to this day. So I'm going to include this too. If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline.