Cover Image: Hour of the Witch

Hour of the Witch

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

Stop what your doing and read this book - it is one of the best books I've read in a while!  I'm not a fan of the Salem witch hunt era, but I read this because I really like Author Chris Bohjalian.  I was instantly transported to Massachuetts where the main character, Mary Deerfield and her husband Thomas were brought to life by Bohjalian's vivid writing.   We follow Mary through her ordeals with her abusive husband and through her being tried as a witch, all the while becoming totally immersed in the story and rooting for a happy outcome for Mary.  I'll leave it there and urge you to pick up this book.  It is a great read from start to finish and you won't want to put it down!  5 stars for another great read from Mr. Bohjalian!
Was this review helpful?
Hour of the Witch by Chris Bohjalian is described as a historical thriller. I only found it to be moderately thrilling, especially during the first half. But still, it is an enjoyable story that gives a deep insight into the mindset of the Puritans who founded Boston as a holy commonwealth. These religious leaders had exclusive control over all aspects of colonial life. Their world was full of hellfire and brimstone sermons which caused a deep and constant fear of the devil. With no separation of church and state, religion was used as a weapon to keep people in line. Women who showed independence and intelligence were often called witches. Quakers were publicly whipped for their beliefs and people were excommunicated if they spoke out against the church leaders.

The protagonist of Hour of the Witch is Mary Deerfield, a 24-year-old woman married to the much older, Thomas. Mary came to Boston with her wealthy parents when she was 16 and married when she was 19. Thomas, a widower, is a respected merchant. They do not have children, which causes Mary great sadness. Mary’s father imports luxury items from Europe and the Caribbean, including three-tined forks, which many Puritans call the “devil’s tines”. They believe the forks to be instruments of evil.

Mary and Thomas live together with an indentured servant, Catherine. Catherine has a great fondness for Thomas, but none for her mistress. When Mary finds some of the forks buried in the front yard, along with a pestle, Catherine believes Mary is trying to cast a spell on Thomas. When Catherine’s brother dies after Mary tried to ease his pain with simples, Catherine thinks Mary killed him. Later, a mark of the devil is carved into the wood of the house and a coin with the same mark is found in an unusual place. Mary is obsessed with finding out who is trying to curse her household.

Thomas abuses Mary, both mentally and physically, but only when Catherine is not around or is asleep. He accuses her of having “white meat” for a brain, when in fact, she is very clever and enterprising. Thomas’s first wife supposedly died after being struck in the head by a horse, but there were no witnesses. The final straw comes for Mary when Thomas stabs her left hand with one of the Devil’s Tines. Mary files for divorce, which is practically unheard of in the Puritan community. She is willing to do anything, perhaps even murder, to get out from under Thomas’s cruelties. Mary must not only fight Thomas but the extreme prejudices and shocking beliefs of the community. During all this tribulation, she falls in love with another man. It is her hope for a future with him that propels her to get out of the marriage.

There are two trials in the novel. The first is for the divorce hearing. The second is when Mary is accused of being a witch due to those dang forks which have reemerged. Both times the servant, Catherine, testifies against Mary. The legal system is a farce. Magistrates asks outrageous questions that have nothing to do with the issue before the panel. Witnesses are encouraged to speculate as to motives and to give religious opinions. Mary often speaks up during testimony to interrupt a witness. I had to laugh at this jab “When someone disputed a magistrate, it tended to be a lawyer, whose unpopular profession was known for its tendency to bark and bray.” Mary’s outspokenness does her no favors in either trial.

4-stars. Book club recommended because there will be great discussions about domestic abuse, Puritans, the justice system, and prejudices. Thank you to NetGalley and Doubleday Books for my advanced reader copy. This novel is expected to be published on May 4, 2021.
Was this review helpful?
Hour of the Witch paints a dark, twisty, complicated picture of Puritan Boston in the mid-17th century.  Mary Deerfield is the young, second wife of an abusive husband.  She applies for a divorce with all the attending accusations of witchcraft that go with it.  Mary’s husband Thomas is truly horrible, but it’s hard to figure out which other characters the reader can trust.  The story is grim but engrossing and clever.  I was born and raised in Boston, we spent all our school field trips visiting the early settlement sites, but I was still surprised by how completely unlikeable and irrational these particular Puritans were.  It all made for a great, unusual, suspenseful narrative.
Was this review helpful?
Many thanks to NetGalley and Doubleday for gifting me a digital ARC of the latest book by Chris Bohjalian - one of my favorites!  4.5 stars for a great historical fiction look into early views about women and witches!

Mary left London with her parents who settled in Boston in the mid-1600s.  Mary is a very devout Puritan woman who marries an older man, Thomas Deerfield, and becomes his second wife.  Thomas turns out to be a very angry, violent man especially when he drinks and Mary is on the receiving end of that violence.  When he stabs a three-pronged fork through her hand, Mary decides she must divorce him.  However, she then finds herself defending against allegations of witchcraft.  

While a bit of a slower read, this is a very powerful look into how women were treated centuries ago.  Men were allowed to discipline their wives and the wives were forced to live with that violence.  Hmm, well, maybe we haven't come as far as we should have on that matter.  Barren women were judged to be suspect because they didn't fulfill what they were created to do - be bearers of children.  This book took place in Massachusetts before the Salem witch trials and people were looking everywhere for the signs of the Devil - even in forks!  The trials that Mary underwent were quite eyeopening and led to a tense reading of this book - loved the ending!
Was this review helpful?
Chris Bohjalian has done it again, with another immersive spell-binding (no pun intended) story. This time the setting is 1662-63 in Boston, which is under Puritan rule. Bohjalian uses archaic, formal dialog to set the tone of his story, and it only took me a short while to get used to it all (“dost”, “thou”, “prithee” and so forth). The main character, Mary Deerfield, is a complex person, dealing with an abusive older husband (especially when he’s “drink-drunk”) and struggling to keep her faith, despite her remaining childless. I found the colonial legal proceedings very interesting, and grew very frustrated with the magistrates (all of whom, of course, were men), even while realizing that they were people of their times. Truly this was not a good time or place to be a woman! (Or a man, unless you were inclined to follow the Puritan way of life absolutely and completely.) At its heart, the divorce proceedings were a colonial era example of “he said, she said” since there were no witnesses to the husband’s cruelty. 

Bohjalian paints a wonderful picture of the everyday lives of the early colonists in Boston, the food they ate and the clothing they wore, the prevalence of indentured servants, and the social structures (and strictures), without taking away from the very absorbing narrative. Highly recommended!

Thank you to NetGalley and Doubleday Books for the opportunity to read an advance readers copy of this book. All opinions are my own.
Was this review helpful?
Mary decides to file for divorce from Thomas after a vicious attack. Though he has abused her all five years of their marriage, there is no proof. They both provided stories of Mary's clumsiness. 
Fearing for her safety,  Mary moves in with her parents while her scribe prepares her case. 
Whispers of Mary practicing witchcraft surface. They steal the attention away from the years Mary suffered domestic violence.  
Mary fights hard for her independence- refusing to bow to her community's ongoing insistence Mary attempt mediation rather than divorce - their value on the sanctity of marriage than a wife's right to safety. 
Women have endured abuse from the beginning of time.  Yet again a terrifying question  - what has changed in 500 years? Women are still not valued as a people, suffer abuse at the hands of men, rulings made by men. I could go on. 
Slow build, great ending.
Was this review helpful?
Mary is trying to escape her abusive husband via divorce, but when things take a dark turn, the story turns into one of survival and women's rights in puritan America. I would give this book a strong 4/5. 
I'm a sucker for a colonial witch plot, and the feminist undertones of this story made it more appealing. Even though the author is a man, I thought Bohjalian did a great job subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) reminding the reader how women were viewed and treated during this time (ex. when Mary pointed out the difference in how the judges responded to a male witness and a female witness.). 
Each character seemed to have plenty of depth. Mary definitely had the most depth as a woman who wanted to please God, but also wanted to live a fulfilling life - an impossible position for a woman of the time. Bohjalian blurred the good/bad lines between the rest of the characters, leaving me conflicted about some characters that I made my mind up about in the beginning. Except for Thomas... I definitely still hate him.
Overall, I liked the plot and the pacing. If I hit a particular spot that was a bit slow or dull, Bohjalian would make up for it by providing an intense chapter right after. And the ending - woah! The plot twist was great and super satisfying after such a dark read. This is a good read!
Was this review helpful?
Mary doesn't really fit into 1660s Massachusetts Bay Colony, but she tries and works hard to be a good member of the community. However, her abusive husband (who is far older than herself), her inability to get pregnant, and the general climate of religious violence all contribute to Mary ending up in front of the magistrates. Twice. The book is a thriller in the sense that it keeps you on the edge of anxiety the entire time. Bohjalian does an excellent job of making you both frustrated with Mary and empathetic towards her situation while the climate of the book keeps you on edge, wondering whether or not Mary is going to fall victim to fear, jealousy, and hysteria or escape with her life. Overall I enjoyed the book, though I found myself getting annoyed with Mary creating some of her own problems and not always seeing - or taking - the sensible way forward for her time and situation. She is a flawed character, which makes her feel more real even if she is not always that sympathetic to the reader. There were a few points that felt a little anachronistic for a 17th century Puritan setting and characters, but otherwise it was well written.
Thank you to Doubleday Books and NetGalley for the opportunity to read Hour of the Witch early in exchange for an honest review!
Was this review helpful?
I requested the ARC of this novel solely because of its author.  I have read several other books by Bohjalian and rated them all highly save one (one which I could not finish, something I rarely do).  Little did I know what I was getting into.  The story is set in 1662 in Boston.  Mary Deerfield came to America with her parents in search of a more pious lifestyle (aka Puritanical).  At 19, she was married to Thomas Deerfield, a man twice her age.  The marriage was doomed, not the least because Mary could not bear a child as well as what we call today spousal abuse.  So she decides to do something most unusual in those times - seek a divorce.  Each chapter has quotes from testimony offered at the divorce hearing, an interesting literary ploy given that you don’t know until halfway through the book the judgment of the magistrates.  The second half of the book deals with Mary’s response to the ruling of the court (no spoilers here - you will need to read).  The tension rises and the story twists back and forth until the surprise ending.  Bohjalian certainly does not stick to one genre (other than fiction) in his writing, and he clearly did some research before putting pen to paper (or should I say finger to keyboard).  He is a talented writer, willing to take risks.  My thanks to Doubleday Books and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review the ARC of this book.
Was this review helpful?
Claustrophobic, atmospheric, suffocating. Chris Bohjalian has written a knockout historical fiction story with Hour of the Witch.  This is...Salem-ish. It's more about being an outsider in a small community. About being a woman, not just a wife. About believing in yourself, not just in God or the Devil.

This book is...a perfect look at being a woman in the 1600's....and frankly...being a woman now.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for the opportunity to read and review this book.
Was this review helpful?
I have to admit, I'm slightly obsessed with the history of witches in America, and this book did not disappoint. It is historical fiction, but I could see it being a story that happened over and over again during the 1600s in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Compelling while also remaining historically logical, I couldn't put this one down.

Mary Deerfield is the second wife of Thomas Deerfield, and often falls to his very violent and cruel hand. She attempts to divorce him, which is almost unheard of at this time, but accusations of witchcraft and their furtive and possibly vengeful servant girl create a much more complicated scenario for Mary.

A page turner in every way, I would highly recommend this book to anyone who loves historical fiction.
Was this review helpful?
I don't know as though I can think of another author who has the range of Chris Bohjalian. No two of his novels are the same. As a result of his range, I can tell you that haven't elected to read all of his books, because the story lines do not all appeal to me, and I am totally good with that. I even stopped reading one of the books my book club chose because it wasn't for me. That being said, one of his books is one of my husband's favorites, and I first learned of the Armenian Genocide from another of his works that I loved (ok, I don't love genocide, but you get what I mean). This new work is another in a long line of excellent novels on diverse topics. It is definitely a slow burn, and the postscript at the end of every chapter doesn't do anything to hide where things are headed. Despite the span of centuries, the plot has many similarities to more recent times, although people don't often seem to write these days of people who come close to the edge of terrible crimes and step back from them. Even though we should expect it, the scenes is the 'courtroom' where we hear unsupported aspersions cast on her, are chilling. This is an absorbing story of a brave young woman.
Was this review helpful?
Did not finish at 35%.  I don't know if it was the old-fashioned language or slow moving plot, but I could not become engaged with this book or its characters.  I'm not sure why this novel is being marketed as a thriller.  If you enjoy historical fiction that is more about the setting than the plot, you might enjoy this book, it's just not for me.
Was this review helpful?
Really interesting fictional account of a life as a woman during the Puritan times.  Mary is a young woman with a mean husband who is not afraid to use physical reminders of his power over her.  Mary is brave and more out-spoken than most women during that time, and files for divorce - a nearly unheard of activity in that time.  Three-tine forks are found buried by Mary's door - are they just forks or are they the devil's sign?  Mary works through the divorce proceedings and eventually finds herself accused of witchcraft - an accusation that often leads to a death sentence.  
The book is very well researched and enlightening about life during this time.
Was this review helpful?
After looking over other reviews, I think I am the only one who really did not like this book, which was so disappointing to me as I used to love all the books by this author. Lately? Not so much, but this was one I really did not like.

Set in the era of the Salem witch hunts, we have a woman who is not afraid to speak her mind and in fact, speaks too much of it by far in front of the judges who disagree with her and hold it against her. As an attorney, I was appalled at the behavior of her at witness and felt she should have been restrained by the scrivener who represents her. On top of that, i did not like the treatment of attorneys as scum. Maybe it was true back then, but I  didn't like it in the now.

There was not one character I liked. The abusive husband,  the maid, the town gossip all took the top spots of those I didn't like, but even the outspoken wife, the men she encouraged, the clergy, the daughter in law were all not likeable for most of the book. In fact, the two "heathen" children of the excommunicated exiles were the only two I liked.

I do not condone abusiveness and really didn't like the descriptive parts where hubby was trying to  "save her soul" and thought it was  not necessary. In fact, the whole book was a turn off.

Thank you NetGalley for an advance reader copy in exchange for an honest opinion.
Was this review helpful?
"How do you know she's a witch?" The oft-quoted line from Monty Python and the Holy Grail that serves to highlight the utter non-sensical logic of the witch hunts of yore, kept echoing in my head as I read Bohjalian's latest novel. Set in Boston in the 1630's, it tells the tale of Mary, an abused young woman who simply seeks a divorce from her cruel husband. But it's not quite that simple for the puritans, whose piety and superstitions cause them to see the devil in just about everything - from the way she speaks to the utensils she uses to eat. The original form of 'gaslighting,' the men of (and women) of Boston are so steadfast in their beliefs that they have Mary even doubting herself and whether she is in fact, possessed by Satan. 

I was enthralled by Hour of the Witch, frustrated with the Puritan attitudes and superstitions but nonetheless enthralled with Mary's story. Bohjalian's writing, as always, is spellbinding and he manages to capture the time period, the language, and the setting without overwriting it. I picked it up, and didn't put it down until I was done.
Was this review helpful?
Fascinating historical fiction set in 1600s Boston, focusing on the plight of a woman trapped in an abusive marriage and just what she risks by speaking out and demanding justice.
Was this review helpful?
What a great novel.
I have read most of Bohjalian's novels and next to Midwives, this is the best.
It was written about a fascinating time in 17th century America that was dominated by strict religious beliefs. If women did not behave or honor their husbands, they were accused of witchcraft. 
There were great characters and twists and the ending was so perfect.
It will be released the first week in May. Loved every page!
Was this review helpful?
Count this as another successful notch in Chris Bohjalian's belt. This novel of historical suspense was so interesting, filled with details about 1662 New England, and went places that I never expected it to. As a Massachusetts native, I've always held a fascination for the Puritans, as well as Salem and the witch trials, and I learned so much from this. The details and the claustrophobic atmosphere added to the tension that kept increasing with each chapter, and the culmination was completely unexpected. I have great admiration for Mary and the other strong-willed women that we read about here. Thanks to Netgalley and Doubleday Books for the advance digital copy!
Was this review helpful?
Another great book from Chris Bohjalian. Dark and suspensful and full of history from an awful time. I loved reading about the witch trials.
Was this review helpful?