“And I could almost pity him, the most powerful man in England”

We’ve all read Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter back in our old school days (and most of you hated it), but I reread it a few years back and just loved it. Hester refuses to name her lover and is forced to wear the badge of an adulteress – the Scarlet Letter – while preacher Arthur Dimmesdale wears his own badge in secret. In the end, Hester’s older husband dies and leaves his fortune to her free-spirited daughter Pearl. So, what happened after that? Thanks to author Paula Reed now we know – Hester and Pearl return to England, an England ravaged by Civil War and controlled by Oliver Cromwell and his New Model Army. An England where the Puritans reign supreme and gaiety, laughter and frivolity are frowned upon.

Finding her father dead, Hester takes up residence in the Puritan household of a childhood friend who is married to one of Cromwell’s loyal generals. She enters their social circle, but Hester’s gift of being able to look into one’s eyes and see the *sins of their soul* becomes a bit disconcerting to those Puritans who are perhaps not quite as pure as they pretend. This gift (which she developed in her years of wearing the letter) comes to the attention of Cromwell, who sees Royalists spies and traitors everywhere. Hester eventually becomes a bit too involved in the plots to oust Cromwell and finds herself caught in a dangerous game of cat and mouse as England tires of Cromwell and plots abound to bring Charles Stuart back to England as King.

I have to admit I was a bit nervous going into this one, usually spin-off novels fall flat as a pancake, but I was pleasantly surprised with this one. While not the greatest novel ever written, it was still quite enjoyable and fun reading *the rest of the story*. I really liked Reed’s writing style, even with the first person narrative (not a favorite of mine) and she managed to keep Hester in the thick of things and not retelling the story from the sidelines of the sewing room. Although this is a pretty complicated period in England’s history, the author keeps it on the lighter, less complicated side, so I wouldn’t be concerned going in not knowing too much about it. I didn’t care too much for the final bit of Pearl’s story and her romance felt a bit contrived and for that I’m knocking off a half star to 3.5/5. Outside of that quibble, this was a light, entertaining read and I’m looking forward to more from Ms. Reed.

*******
My copy courtesy of the King County Library System

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