Invisible World by Suzanne Weyn
There are certain points in history that lend themselves well to fictionalization, and the Salem witch trials are definitely one such moment. Invisible World by Suzanne Weyn tells an alternate version of these trials.
Elsabeth James comes from a line of mind readers and fortune tellers, including one put to death for predicting the death of Mary, Queen of Scots. Her father studies her to prove there’s a scientific aspect to supernatural abilities, but fears for her safety. He decides to take a Dutch scientist up on his offer to travel to America where Elsabeth will attempt to “communicate” with recently-discovered organisms.
Elsabeth, her father, her governess, Bronwyn, and her sister all board the Golden Explorer, but the ship soon finds itself in the middle of a large storm outside of Bermuda. Elsabeth is separated from her family, and survives days at sea by getting inside a barrel. She’s washed ashore, and is soon discovered by Aakif, a local slave who helps her and introduces her to their village’s conjurer, who becomes Elsabeth’s teacher.
Elsabeth is re-named Betty-Fatu by Aakif, and the two soon fall for each other. Once the plantation masters discover her, and her “inappropriate” relationship, they send her to Salem to be a servant of Reverend Parris. Unbeknownst to Betty-Fatu, she unleashes an evil spirit while en route, and soon the whole town of Salem is swept into disarray as accusations of witch craft are thrown around.
Weyn definitely tells an interesting story through Betty-Fatu, who dreams of living independently off her powers, but soon realizes she’s been naïve about how those around her, especially Puritans, feel about “witchcraft.”
A lot of the historical facts remain in tact: Betty Parris Abigail Williams, daughter and niece, respectively of Reverend Parris, are among the initial group of accusers. Tituba, Sarah Good, and Sarah Osborne are among the first arrested. However, Weyn does take certain creative license as the trials move forward and Betty-Fatu begins to piece together how the evil spirits are managing to wreak their havoc. Modern medical theories are applied to the events, so if this novel is used in an academic setting, it would be a good idea to do a fact versus fiction lesson.
This isn’t the first historical event Weyn has tackled. Distant Waves, her retelling of the Titanic, was described by Booklist as “wholly original,” and Kirkus as “a page-turner.” Adding Invisible World to your shelves will be a great addition to those who enjoyed Distant Waves as well as anyone who wants to enjoy a great novel about the Salem witch trials.
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