I read the two sequels to Salem’s Vengeance together, and they make a chilling and powerful end to a compelling first instalment. From pillars of a community the Kelly family become outlaws, forced to throw in their lot with others on the fringes, like the Miamiak Indians who take them in.The growing sense of unspeakable wickedness and depravity at the centre of the sufferings of the Kelly family and their fellow survivors from Book 1 Salem’s Vengeance is absolutely gripping.
The second and third books continue the story begun so devastatingly in the first. The sins of the fathers that have been visited upon the children at such cost must be confronted and overcome at immense price by the essentially innocent.
Book 2, Salem’s Fury, is told largely from the point of view of Rebecca Kelly, younger sister of Sarah. Brought up among the Miamiak Indians as one of them after the dreadful incidents of book 1, Rebecca has a hazy remembrance of the past. She loves her life with the Miamiak and considers them her family and her home. Torn away from this comparative safety by treachery and war among competing Indian tribes, Rebecca is forced to confront the distant past once again if there is to be any hope for a future. She must sort out for herself what she believes the truth of the past to be from among the ongoing deceit and lies of the survivors of the Salem trials. She determines on revenge for the crimes perpetrated on her family and their associates, and begins pursuing it relentlessly.
In book 3 Salem’s Legacy, the enormous ripple effect of one man’s unbridled and unprincipled lust for power and lasting fame is a chilling lesson for anyone from any era, that human evil has far reaching consequences. It goes far beyond the story on the page to become a parable about the power of entrenched evil and the strength required to defy it.
The frightening inextricability of spiritual evil from the human lust that begets it – where does one end and the other begin? – is a powerful meditation on ‘the wages of sin’. The chilling scenes of the final confrontation with the person at the centre of the vortex are positively gut-wrenching in their horror. Their stark presentation of the choice between right and wrong, good or evil, eternal condemnation or salvation is devastatingly clear and horribly simple.
Rebecca feels but dimly connected to the past, but the tentacles extend inevitably towards her as the shadows of the Salem witch trials continue to haunt – and to hunt herself and her loved ones. Sarah is beaten and broken, but Rebecca fights for those left of her family and her beloved Indians, and seeks revenge on those who seek to destroy them. It is only as she reaches the epicentre of the wickedness that she realises mere selfish vengeance will reduce her to the level of that which threatens all she holds dear. She has to find another way to overcome the fearful horror once and for all, and that way is selfless not selfish.
At every stage Rebecca struggles to make the right choices according to her lights and at every stage they could go either way. It is left to Rebecca, supported at the end only by her Indian friend Ciquenackqua, to finish the journey begun in the first book, a horrifying journey of flight, fear, manipulation, violence and ruthless cruelty.
There is a sense almost of numbness and then immense relief rather than triumph when it is all finally over. Those who live have been purified and strengthened by passing through the fires of terrible tribulation. And, like the fire burned out, the end of the story is like ash upon the hearth, soft, fine and achingly gentle.
As in the first book, the writing throughout is tight and evocative, intelligent, taut yet liberally sprinkled with lovely lyrical passages. The evocation of Rebecca’s life in the Indian camp is particularly fine, in Book 2 Salem’s Fury.
The characterisation is deep and multidimensional, and there are many fine and wise observations about human nature and the motivations that drive people to particular actions. The reflections about morality are interesting and salient, and Rebecca’s own journey is very convincing. Her confrontation of dilemma after dilemma and her courage and clear sense of wanting always to do right is very moving. The uneasy meld of the two worlds, of the Miamiak Red Banshee and of the settler child Rebecca, is handled with considerable insight, especially with their sometimes apparently contrasting ideas of how justice is best served. The difference between vengeance and justice is also something that is approached with some thought through Rebecca’s experience.
All in all, a rattling good trilogy, in which each is better than the last, and well worth reading, possibly more than once.