Book Review: The Wolves of Andover

Colonial Massachusetts was not an easy place to survive. Strained relations with the native peoples, smallpox outbreaks, and barbaric wolves (of both the four-legged and two-legged, human varieties) devoured all who showed weakness in mind, body, or spirit. But in Kathleen Kent’s The Wolves of Andover, the most treacherous forces in 17th century America were often unseen.

In Kent’s newest novel, the political strain between the colonies and England hangs in the air like a wet sponge of tension, waiting to be wrung out.

Part historical fiction, part romance, and part political thriller, the book was inspired by Kent’s own family tree. Kent grew up hearing stories about her controversial ancestors: Martha Allen, who was hung as a witch during the Salem witch trials, and Martha’s briny husband, Thomas Carrier, a mysterious Welshman with a questionable past who stood over seven feet tall. The Wolves of Andover primarily focuses on the courtship between Martha and Thomas. 

As the story opens, Martha is a spinster at the ripe old age of 19 – because of her strong will and harsh tongue, she has remained single well past the age at which women of her time commonly got married. She has recently moved in with her cousin’s family and is assisting the household in a domestic servant capacity. 

Thomas is much older than Martha and works as a laborer on her cousin’s farm. A former soldier in the English Civil War, he speaks little and emits the feeling that he has nothing to prove to anyone. Rumors swirl that he is actually Thomas Morgan, the executioner who, under the orders of Oliver Cromwell, beheaded Charles I of England and then fled to the new colonies as a fugitive in hiding.

The intrigue deepens when a political subplot is introduced involving Charles II, who is now in power (following Cromwell’s death) and wants Thomas dead. He hires several unscrupulous characters to sail to the new colonies, locate Thomas, and assassinate him. 

As the two stories intertwine, the suspense builds, and the plot takes off nicely, with one exception. The book introduces many of its characters so closely together that it is hard to keep them all straight. Also, with the story alternating between Thomas and Martha’s courtship and the King’s men looking for Thomas, following the plot can be confusing. In fact, don’t be surprised if you find yourself flipping back to prior pages and scanning sections for character refreshers. 

This is only a minor stumble in the book, however, and isn’t a deal breaker because Kent gives her readers payoffs in other ways, such as in her accurate depictions of the harshness and dangers of daily colonial existence and her authentic grasp of early American political history. Her easy-flowing and honest writing style is also a plus in this historic novel.

Watch an interview with Kent:

The Wolves of Andover is Kathleen Kent’s second novel and a prequel to her first book, The Heretic’s Daughter. As a late-blooming novelist, the Dallas-based Kent began her writing career when she was diagnosed with polychondritis, an autoimmune disease which destroys cartilage.  After years of painful treatments, chemotherapy, and steroids for her condition, she turned her back on conventional medicine and developed her own “writing therapy.” She claims that if she writes a chapter a day, she always feels better.

A solid piece of historical fiction with many plot twists and turns, The Wolves of Andover is a new addition to the Kansas City Public Library fiction collection and is recommended for anyone who enjoys a good story and would like to experience a small peek into America’s colonial past and early political history.

About the Author

Amy Morris

Amy Morris is a librarian technical assistant at the Westport Branch. She earned a B.A. in English, with an emphasis in creative writing, from Avila University. Besides reading and writing, Amy enjoys traveling, art, being creative, and spending time with her family.