Hester: a bewitching tale of desire and ambition

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Pub Date 6 Oct 2022 | Archive Date 30 Jan 2023

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A dazzlingly inventive tale of troubled legacies, desire and unsung power, inspired by The Scarlet Letter.

Glasgow, 1829: Isobel, a young seamstress, and her husband Edward set sail for New England, in flight from his mounting debts and addictions. But, arriving in Salem, Massachusetts, Edward soon takes off again, and Isobel finds herself penniless and alone.

Then she meets Nathaniel, a fledgling writer, and the two are instantly drawn to each other: he is haunted by his ancestors, who sent innocent women to the gallows during the Salem witch trials – while she is an unusually gifted needleworker, troubled by her own strange talents. Nathaniel and Isobel grow ever closer. Together, they are dark storyteller and muse; enchanter and enchanted. But which is which?

A dazzlingly inventive tale of troubled legacies, desire and unsung power, inspired by The Scarlet Letter.

Glasgow, 1829: Isobel, a young seamstress, and her husband Edward set sail for New England...

Advance Praise

'Full of lush and colourful prose… Hester proves that a woman will do whatever she must to prosper’

SARAH PENNER, author of The Lost Apothecary

'In dreamlike yet vivid prose, Albanese weaves a story about nineteenth-century Salem, a place with a dark history where secrets still abound’

CHRISTINA BAKER KLINE, author of The Exiles

'A masterpiece. Rich in detail and hauntingly lyrical… enthralling, ambitious, and a total knock-out'

FIONA DAVIS, author of The Magnolia Palace

'Audacious and very entertaining’

BREENA CLARKE, author of River, Cross My Heart

'Luminous… a spellbinding tapestry'

AFIA ATAKORA, author of Conjure Women

'This page-turning and poignant novel beautifully imagines the untold life story of the woman who went down in literary history wearing a scarlet letter'

ALICE ELLIOTT DARK, author of Fellowship Point

'Full of lush and colourful prose… Hester proves that a woman will do whatever she must to prosper’

SARAH PENNER, author of The Lost Apothecary

'In dreamlike yet vivid prose, Albanese weaves a story...

Available Editions

EDITION Hardcover
ISBN 9780715654767
PRICE £16.99 (GBP)

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Average rating from 28 members

Featured Reviews

This book was my first foray back in to historical fiction, and it did not disappoint. I knew that I had to read it as soon as I realised that it is a speculation of the inspiration for The Scarlet Letter, which is also a book that I enjoyed. Albanese blends history, historical figures and original characters seamlessly in to a plot that catches and holds your attention. Her writing style flows and takes the reader along for the journey with Isobel. From Scotland, to Salem, and beyond, we are swept up in the journey that is Isabel finding herself and accepting her gift, while also navigating society in a New World, life, and love. Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It is well-written, and the characters well-developed.

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I’ve never read The Scarlet Letter, probably because it’s not on the school curriculum for the UK like it is in the USA, but that didn’t affect my enjoyment of this historical story of a young seamstress emigrating from Scotland to Salem, Massachusetts.

I loved the character of Isobel, her needlework talent and her synaesthesia which informed how she saw the world. The reader could see the pitfalls before Isobel could, but I could never blame her for making the decisions which seemed to offer happiness at the time.

A recommended read for lovers of historical fiction.

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Firstly, I've only heard of "The Scarlet Letter" thanks to movies and pop culture but never read it. But the cover and the name of this book drew me in and I knew I had to read it.

I loved how the book started with such rich, colorful descriptions of Isobel's world. And while she makes some naive decisions along the way, I wasn't too harsh on her given that this girl is still quite young.

The pacing falters in the middle but I'm glad I kept reading because it picks up later on. As a whole, the book is beautiful and Isobel is a character who will surely stay with me.

Thanks to Netgalley and Duckworth Books for the advance e-copy.

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I first read and enjoyed The Scarlet Letter during my BA in American Studies, and as the story stuck with me, I was intrigued by Hester as soon as I found out it was coming out. The cover! The premise! Beautifully written, it tells the story of Isobel - a young seamstress who leaves her native Scotland for Salem, and who could've inspired Nathaniel Hawthorne's great protagonist, Hester Prynne.

This is an utterly original and imaginative novel, with the characters you truly care for and often fear for. It's about love, friendship, witchcraft, fear, art, women's rights (or lack of thereof) and slavery. Laurie Lico Albanese's writing is atmospheric, detailed and vivid. I was enchanted and the ending was brilliant - it did the characters justice. I would recommend Hester whether you've read The Scarlet Letter or not, as it's a great and gripping historical fiction novel.

Thank you to NetGalley and Duckworth Books for this e-ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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Isobel is a character I warmed to immediately, and I was fully invested in her .
To the point I wanted to warn her every time I knew dhe was making a bad decision.
This book covers a lot of miles, from Scotland to Salem.
I enjoyed the parts of Salems history woven into the tale.
The colours, and stitching added a slight magical quality.
Despite never having read the Scarlet letter, I enjoyed this, but I can imagine knowing the story just adds another level onto this book (and helps you understand the title 😄)
This story grew on me, and by the end I could have happily read another 400 pages with these characters.

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This is not just a retelling or reimagining, but an inspired story that imaginatively and creatively revives an iconic tale, plucking characters from pages and giving them a new life, a chance to rewrite their stories and reclaim their voices.

Albanese sets the scene masterfully, transporting us to a world that feels unknown and unfamiliar, showing us the dark nights and long days of a seamstresses daughter in vivid detail. We follow Isobel on her journey, getting to learn how she sees and interprets the world around her. Albanese mentions synaesthesia at the start of the book, a phenomenon that can make colours, words, textures, noises or other sensory experiences link together and feel differently to certain people. And it was of course not really understood until the late 19th century, and like always was unknown and therefore feared.

Isobel sees the world in colour, experiences her surroundings richly and vividly - is it witchcraft or science? Back then, these were largely the same. But whether she was a witch or not the storytelling undeniably has a sense of magic hiding in plain sight that left me bewitched.

This story projects Isobels voice, but intersperses her narration with old diary entries, taking us back to when witch-hunts and persecution were commonplace for any women who dared to think. While her husband is absent at sea, we get to meet the residents of her small town, and watch their relationships grow naturally - and these relationships drive the story quickly onwards and kept me hooked. She meets witches - and by this I mean bold, cunning, caring women who have suffered at the hands of others and who still hold on to their faith in the face of suffering. Isobel learns her own skills as a seamstress and her wisdom are plenty to help her survive and slowly learns not only who she is but who she could be.

Isobel tells us a story of making her way in a mans world, a story about strength, liberation and female power. And after reading this, I have no doubt that if anyone is capable of bewitchment, it's definitely Laurie Lico Albanese.

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This novel was inspired by the Scarlet Letter, which I read a long time ago, but must re read now. Isobel, the heroine, is the lead character, and an interesting one. This novel is an example of historical fiction at its best and I would give it more than five stars if it were possible to do so, because it is the best novel I have read for some time. I really enjoyed the book.

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I've read 'The Scarlet Letter' once many years ago, it being a classic of American literature and all, but I'm no expert on it and couldn't remember all the details when I started reading "Hester", Laurie Lico Albanese's novel wondering about the woman that inspired Hawthorne to write his classic. I absolutely adore stories like this one, stories that are kind of literature's behind the scenes feature, allowing us to look at old classics in a new way. "Hester" is exactly that, and I really enjoyed it.

The writing is beautiful and captivating, sucking the reader right into the story of Isobel - ancestor of a supposed witch, unhappily and unluckily married to an opium addict, meeting a man named Nathaniel Hathorne when she and her husband move from Scotland to Salem. It's a bewitching story, one that made me fall in love with Isobel and that tackles different important subjects from the era she lives in. Puritanism and the fear of witches, the treatment of women, especially those that don't adhere to what society considers the only good standard, and slavery being the big themes.

Even if you don't know Hawthorne's work but enjoy historical fiction, you will most likely love this one. It's beautiful, tragic, hopeful and wonderfully crafted. I did feel like there were minor pacing issues throughout the middle part of the book and I wasn't totally engaged at all times, but these are very minor not-even-complaints. Read it, it's worth your time.

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An enjoyable historical fiction based on charcaters in the Scarlet letter. Dont fret if you've never read it as I hadn't and this novel still makes a great stand alone story of a brave woman haunted by her family history and fearful of her own power. Touching on witchcraft, superstition and persecution its an absorbing tale with a satisfying ending.

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I have read the scarlett letter but I don't think you need to have read it to enjoy this read. I was absolutely captivated by this book, it enchanted me right from the start and didnt let go until the end. I loved it and I took some of the charcaters to my heart, I cannot recommend this book enough

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Having not read or even really knowing anything about 'The Scarlet Letter' I was worried that this book wouldn't resonate with me without the context. However, this was a gorgeously rich historical fiction read that I enjoyed from page one.⁠

In Hester we follow Isobel, a talented embroiderer with synaesthesia, who travels from Scotland to America with her troubled husband in order to start a new life in the 'New World'. When her husband decides to go in search of apothecary treasures by boat, Isobel meets the broody and haunted Nat Hathorne, who she eventually falls in love with. Interspersed with this story is a historical timeline of Isobel's and Nat's ancestors who were accused witches, escaped witches and witch hunters.⁠

This honestly was the perfect autumn read! The layered themes of witchcraft, love, determination, female friendships, and redemption was the perfect mix of autumnal moodiness and cosy warmth. That's not to say this book can't be read during other seasons but I really do think this resonated with me so well due to feeling like the perfect time to read it.⁠

For those of you who love a novel where there is strong character growth, pick this one up! Isobel starts as a very naïve young girl when she first marries and travels across the pond but as the story unravels, she discovers so many new things, meets new so many new kinds of people and through these experiences, learns and grows so much.⁠

Overall, this was a very enjoyable read for me and I can see this being a hit historical fiction for the rest of the year. I feel like any historical fiction lovers who enjoy a character growth story with strong female characters and a touch of witchcraft will love this one!

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First....this book cover is so beautiful, how could you not pick it up to read?
Laurie Lico Albanese has taken all of the loose threads and all of the endless questions we had when we read The Scarlet Letter in high school and woven them into an outstanding story of how the original story came to be. She has displayed her considerable writing skills by anchoring her story to the original but she most definitely is not giving us a reimagined Scarlet Letter.
Instead we watch a young woman whose plans for the future quickly change into a desperate run to avoid the poorhouse. Instead of the prosperous future her husband promised when they wed, she's on a ship to Salem where women who stand out from the crowd are often punished as witches. When she meets a young Nathaniel Hawthorne, we see the beginning of a long relationship that grows quickly into the background (maybe) of Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter.
An outstanding read whether you have read The Scarlet Letter or not.

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I like book set in Salem and love Nathaniel Hawthorne's books. This was a great story, a reimagining of how the Scarlet Letter was born.
The author is a talented storyteller and the characters are fleshed. Fascinating historical background.
Highly recommended.
Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine

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