My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
Sarah Balance’s Her Wicked Sin, book 1 of Sins of Salem, had a very interesting backdrop; the dark and superstitious Salem, Massachusetts laden with the frenzy of the disgraceful witch-hunting. I don’t recall reading a romance novel set in that time-frame, so I found the notion rather refreshing. However, there were things that bugged me too. I’ll try to explain in my review.
Lydia, the young h of our story, has been living in Salem for the past year under a false surname and has been working as a physician and a mid-wife. No one has ever seen her husband, whom Lydia claims to have been out at the sea. That she’s waiting for his return. But no one knows of the dark past that still haunts Lydia. Even though she’s found a rather good life in Salem and has come to know some good neighbors, Lydia is running because she murdered her drunk and abusive husband in the dead of the night, right after his beating that led her to miscarry their child. Other than that brute, she didn’t have a family, losing them in a fire at once. She thought her husband would be her lifeline because they met right after she lost her family. But that was not to be. Lydia is beautiful, a fact that made her husband suspicious and illogically mean towards her. Nothing good came from that marriage, and though Lydia thinks she’s rid of him for good, she can’t rest easy, always in fear that her little secret would be out one day and she’d be punished.
One night, on her way home from attending a birth, Lydia saves a handsome, young stranger. The man, Henry as he introduces himself, has been wounded from a fall from his horse; a giant, black steed with obvious good and powerful breeding. Lydia takes him home to attend to his injuries. Although Henry, ever the gentleman, raises his concern about her being with him alone in her house, Lydia brushes it aside. She’s the village physician and Henry’s leg is badly wounded. What can happen between them? Besides everybody knows she’s married and waiting for her husband. But still, the Puritans in this village will have a fit if they learn about it. Adultery is condemned to death penalty, that’s surely a cause for concern.
As if to make matters worse, a nosy and disdainful neighbor of Lydia, Rebecca Mathers drops by with the news of an illness just that night. This woman, who considers herself someone of import in the village, is nothing but a busybody with a pinched face and a mouth full of righteous words. And though she was once a friend to Lydia, after witnessing her husband’s interest in Lydia, Rebecca has turned mean. Just how mean and vengeful, we find out as the story progresses.
Henry is found at Lydia’s house by Rebecca; an obvious bad news. To save her from the ill gossip and the punishment for adultery, Henry steps in and introduces himself as her husband. Lydia is shocked but goes with his plan. But she knows this won’t stop Rebecca’s mouth and the whole village would likely know about her ‘errant husband’s’ return by the morning.
Henry tells Lydia that he’s in search of his eldest half-brother because his mom is ill and wants to see her son. The half-brother in question had a bad relationship with Henry’s father, hence he left and severed all ties with them. Lydia is sympathetic but she’s also worried about the fate of the story they’ve just woven to stop the gossips.
At this point, Henry expresses his interest in Lydia, who has already confessed to being a widow. When a day passes between them, Henry convinces Lydia that he’s totally into her and wants to marry her in earnest. Lydia, at first, can’t believe it, though she wants to. Then again, she has been starving for affection since her family passed away. Neighbors here, though solicitous, aren’t really prone to showing affection in public, certainly to people not of their own families. Moreover, they’re easily suspicious of strangers. Lydia has not been able to find that deep of a bond with anyone. So, she easily gives in and they handfast that night without any witness.
Now here was the problem. I was like, huh? How can this happen? I mean they just met, exchanged a few words and wrought a plan to stave off the gossip. I totally understood that part, Henry’s intention to help Lydia. But aside from Lydia sensing that Henry is, indeed, a gentleman and from a well off family (his horse, clothing gave it away) and Henry expressing his attraction to her (of course, she’s beautiful), I saw nothing that solid between them. Even the attraction was lukewarm, so in my mind I couldn’t validate their insta-love which resulted to that handfasting. When bits of pieces of her husband’s abusive behavior were revealed, Lydia’s instant trust in Henry also seemed rather unbelievable to me.
Then there was the writing style. The narrative, and the dialogue, was rather of period-style, quite heavily so. Maybe it was done to be true to the time-frame but I’m not used to with that kind of narrative. Because of that, it took me a while to get into the story because I kept re-reading these lines often to get the exact meaning.
For a while, these problems kinda flattened the story for me; at least for the first couple of chapters where Henry is introduced throughout the village as Lydia’s husband to satiate the overly curious neighbors’ interests. Soon, they also consummate their handfasting. For the first time in her life, Lydia enjoys the sex act, something that she hated beforehand. Yet, after everything, Lydia keeps on doubting the turn of events, convinced that Henry wouldn’t stay beyond couple of weeks. But she thinks she’s falling for Henry nonetheless. Funny thing was, it was Henry who expresses his love first and tries to convince Lydia that he’ll stay with her, even after his brother is found. Henry’s musings proves that his intentions where Lydia is concerned are clear and true. He doesn’t care for the riches of his family one way or the other, so a simple life with his new wife is all he craves.
In between, that woman, Rebecca, comes down upon Lydia with a vengeance, cooking up trouble. Her apparently oblivious husband, Thomas keeps trying to be gentlemanly towards Lydia, an attention she’d rather not have. Rebecca’s ire and ugly nature is something she doesn’t want to deal with. Yet, she can’t shake off Thomas’s attention cause she doesn’t want to appear rude either.
A fanciful illustration of the Salem Witch Trial, source Wikipedia
At this point, I still wasn’t sure of the story and where it was going until the time when a gossip starts brewing in Salem. Arrests have already been made on accusation of witchcraft, which cast a dark and dreary pall throughout the village. People seem on the edge, nervous and waiting for the something bad to happen anytime, to anyone. Just then, someone spreads a gossip about a stranger being seen on a huge, black horse which is said to be the Devil’s very own steed. Then, Lydia heard that someone was looking for her, a stranger. Lydia didn’t know anyone who can specifically look for her but the law, to charge her with the murder. Yet with all the gossip and people’s sudden odd behavior around her, Lydia becomes scared. At the same time, Lydia starts sensing that she’s being watched from afar. But she never really could figure out the source. Her house being on the outskirts of the village, Lydia often has to return home alone. And even though Henry wants to be with her, she knows he won’t be here always. So what can she do?
At that time, a well-off family’s mistress calls on her to check on her seemingly ill daughters. But upon examination, Lydia finds that the daughters are perfectly fine. Indeed, it was the eldest girl’s plan to act ill so that they can skip their chores around the house. When Lydia confronts them and tells their mother that everything’s fine, that vile girl promises that there would be trouble for her. I couldn’t believe the kind of poison these illiterate, superstitious people harbored! That they’d resort to just about anything to erase a person they thought they don’t want around. Before getting into the review, I was reading some articles online. The reasons behind these hangings were just mind-blowing... and asinine IMO.
And so, trouble soon finds Lydia. She’s charged with witchcraft because she rides a big black horse, Henry’s horse Willard. Because some stranger is looking for her, even Henry is a stranger to the village. And then, those same children, the 4 daughters of that family, start acting crazy, swearing that they see Lydia at night in spectral form! She comes in to taunt them, in turn making them ill. So it was no surprise that their mother accuses Lydia of practicing witchcraft on ‘spectral evidence’. Rebecca the b!tch was only happy to supply some more gossip to fuel it further. Sadly, no one in the town comes to Lydia’s rescue because they knew they’d be in trouble too. People who defended an accused individual were also often accused of the same practice.
Henry, on the other hand, had just found some proof about his brother’s presence and whereabouts in Salem. Just that morning, he went in search of him, so he had no idea what was happening to Lydia. She’s arrested on those ridiculous charges and thrown into jail. When Henry hears of it later, he decides it’d be best to not let the others know of his identity so that he, too, is not thrown in jail with her. He instantly plans to go to his father and beg for help if needs be.
Unfortunately, when Lydia finally gets the chance to have a glimpse of Henry, she misunderstands him. Thinking him all appalled and angry, she decides all hope of a rescue is lost for her. By then Henry has already confessed to her about his rich and influential family, a name everyone knows; a fact he tried his best to hide so it doesn’t hinder his quest. Henry also, repeatedly, told Lydia that he’d be there for her no matter what. Yet, he leaves and doesn’t return for her for the next week when she’s kept in a dark, dank cell and ultimately, after a farce of a trial, is condemned to hang. Lydia tells herself that she knew this would happen. Henry has left her to her fate. After all, no one really knows the truth but herself and him. She has no right to claim anything, and now, no hope to live as well. But what hurts her most is the fact that this time, she has truly fallen in love. Was she wrong to trust him that much?
Yet we find that the truth is far from that. Henry runs into some delays while at home due to his father, the reason why he couldn’t come ASAP. When he finally states his case to his father, the man out and out refuses to help Henry on this. A dejected but undefeated Henry decides he’d do something on this own...
Lydia’s rescue was rather dramatic, thanks to Henry and an unexpected help. She’s let go in the dead of the night with an ultimatum; she must leave Salem this night, never to return again. But her past was waiting at her doorstep to haunt her once again. While getting ready to leave, Lydia finds her first husband standing in her room, all sneering and mocking. She now knows who was watching her. It was also apparent to me that the whole witchcraft gossip was spread by this jerk because he was just that... a mean jerk. When he proceeds to rape her, Henry bursts in and boy oh boy, we’re faced with another rather shocking revelation. It kinda made me, I don’t know, uncomfortable.
Though Henry saves Lydia, I was left with questions. In the light of that revelation, I’m still not sure how Lydia and Henry can marry and live as man and wife because when they leave for Henry’s home, her first husband was rather alive. Nothing was really explained or hinted at for the story ends right after that. This is why I felt that the ending was abrupt. Was her first marriage annulled later? Did the man die because I knew Henry was going to see to it that he rots in jail. I don’t even know what went on back in those days to justify this. *scratches head*
In the conclusion, I must say I enjoyed the last couple of chapters, mainly the part where Lydia was going through her ordeals after being accused and the suspense it brought to the story. I felt sad for her, knowing that this actually happened in the 1692 Salem where people were unjustly accused and murdered (I’ll call it ‘murder’ cause those hangings, to me, were just that). It angers me to read just how vile, vengeful and corrupt people were, and still are. I think the author was able to capture those emotions in her writing. 3.5 stars.