Burning Witches

With a provocative cover and an interesting title, Salem Burning by Daniel Sugar presents the continuing story of a witch as she passes through interesting times from the 1500s to the 1700s. From the beginning of the story, the reader assumes this will be a story of witchcraft but only after several pages does the author develop the “witchery.” It develops slowly with the administration of a poison to Kyle while he sleeps. The poison does not kill but seduces Kyle into believing he is in love with the plain-looking Lilly. Sugar entices the reader with the promise of secrets to be soon revealed.

Kyle is blind to the fact of how plain-looking Lilly is by the drug administered. All might have been well if the stunningly beautiful Catherine had not appeared as a new immigrant to Salem. Kyle immediately begins to court Catherine although he is already betrothed to Lilly. Kyle has no problem dividing his attention between the ladies because their actions toward him are different. Catherine is shy, hesitant, and inexperienced. Kyle is adventuresome and wants to experiment but needs Lilly’s help. This is the first secret that Sugar reveals but I won’t reveal it here; it would be a spoiler.

Catherine eventually succumbs to suggestions from Kyle. Lilly, of course, knows about their relationship and, while not really accepting it, allows it. Why not? After all, Lilly’s wedding to Kyle is still on. Had Kyle broken off his relationship to Lilly before their wedding day, he might have gotten away with it. Announcing his new-found love for Catherine on his wedding day from an altar that should have hosted the wedding of Kyle and Lilly was too much for Lilly.

Making Lilly angry was not good. When Kyle tried to kill Lily through the corruption of legal procedures that would end in her death, Lilly’s opinion of Kyle decreased dramatically. Resolving this situation would take extraordinary powers. Luckily, Grandmother Rose was present to guide novice Lilly about the limitations of her powers.

This interesting tale with three or four surprises is hurt by a simplistic, almost high-school level of writing. I quote only one example to give a reader an idea of the writing style. “Finally, it was over, the screams died away and the wooden fort was no more. Magistrate Smythe smiled knowing that he had killed a large group of Wampanoag. He had killed their wives and children. He had burned their food and their clothing. He had completely eliminated them from the earth. He had done good work. God’s work.” (Kindle Locations 885-888).

There are positive sides to this style of writing. First, this is an entertaining and interesting story for those English language learners seeking stories in English that are not complicated in vocabulary or complex in the plot. Second, although there are descriptions of sexual behavior, the scenes are bland and chaste. I gave the story three Amazon stars because the surprises were well-paced and interesting. I felt the writing style was 10th-grade high school level.

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