Book Review: Hester

Who is the real Hester Prynne?

Laurie Lico Albanese ~ Hester


Isobel Gamble is a young seamstress carrying generations of secrets when she sets sail from Scotland in the early 1800s with her husband, Edward. An apothecary who has fallen under the spell of opium, his pile of debts have forced them to flee Edinburgh for a fresh start in the New World. But only days after they’ve arrived in Salem, Edward abruptly joins a departing ship as a medic – leaving Isobel penniless and alone in a strange country, forced to make her way by any means possible.

When she meets a young Nathaniel Hawthorne, the two are instantly drawn to each other: he is a man haunted by his ancestors, who sent innocent women to the gallows – while she is an unusually gifted needle worker, troubled by her own strange talents. As the weeks pass and Edward’s safe return grows increasingly unlikely, Nathaniel and Isobel grow closer and closer. Together, they are a muse and a dark storyteller; the enchanter and the enchanted. But which is which?


A retelling like no other, Hester is a book that will stay with you long after the last page is turned. Quietly magical, this book immediately captures the reader’s attention, weaving a spell with its words.

Perhaps you know the story of Hester Prynne and maybe you’ve seen The Crucible performed. Witch hunts, religion and a new land come together in a way that is spectacular. This book is flawless; despite a melodic flow, it’s hypnotic, compelling and addictive. A slow burn it may be, but the power of it lingers, forcing you to imagine a reality that is more colourful, fragrant and evocative than any one of us has experienced.

Yet Albanese also includes the plight of runaway slaves in her novel and this reminds readers that persecution continues, and none is really safe in times of uncertainty, fear and the unknown. There is also sadness, struggle and scandal, as other characters face their own challenges as they fight for survival and societal acceptance.

Characters are vivid, ranging from the weak but bullish Edward, through to the wonderful captain who takes Isobel under his wing on the crossing. Salem too is beautifully described, conjuring up a town that feels both welcoming and wary. Its residents are guarded, haunted by events from long ago, and fearful of strangers.

Isobel herself is full of energy, a vibrant woman determined to use her talents to gain independence, but forced to hide her true nature in a town with such a turbulent history. Nat is believable, struggling to forget his ancestors’ actions, but remaining loyal to his family. His affair with Isobel is romantic, yet dangerous – a powerful combination that threatens to ruin everything they have worked to conceal.

Beautiful, magical and divine. This is one of my top reads of this year.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Thanks to Duck Books and Insta Book Tours for my copy. Opinions my own.

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