The darkness that has long enveloped Salem, Massachusetts (and pervaded Arthur Miller's "The Crucible") takes on new light in Megan Chance's capable hands. First witnessed through the eyes of impressionable 15-year-old Charity Fowler, we are given an insightful look at the people of Salem: tightly bound to their strict religious beliefs, yet so repressed that they seem ready to burst into fanaticism at any given moment.
Suspicions rise when Charity's beautiful Aunt Susannah comes from England the night her mother dies in childbirth. Young, impressionable and fearful of her own secrets and blossoming sexuality, Charity is easily lured in with a group of girls seeking excitement by dabbling with spells and fortune telling.
Susannah becomes a scapegoat for Charity's own feelings of guilt, her adolescent jealousy and grief over her mother's death. Everything seems to conspire toward Susannah being accused of witchcraft as passion and hysteria escalates.
Burdened with grief and the care of his three children, Lucas Fowler finds it hard to understand his daughter's descent into madness. His own feelings for Susannah add to his emotional baggage as he strives to find a way to help Charity and free Susannah.
As her three main characters become caught up in the whirlwind of paranoia that sweeps through Salem, Megan Chance pulls readers into their lives through their alternating first-person narratives, allowing us to understand both their own fraught emotions and the psychological and political issues of the era. Ms. Chance takes risks by tackling a dark subject, but they pay off with an emotionally intense story about the depths of humanity. (Oct., 400 pp., $24.96)