top of page
  • readthisandsteep


Laurie Lico Albanese brings us an imaginative and atmospheric retelling of a classic!

I love a good retelling, and Hester is fascinating and beautifully done.

It is the story of Isobel, a seamstress and Scottish immigrant to Salem, Massachusetts, in the early 1800s. An extraordinarily gifted artisan, Isobel creates striking embroidery, partly due to a sensory phenomenon we now understand as synesthesia. Synesthesia is the perceptual phenomenon where you experience one of your senses through another. For instance, Isobel experiences letters and words as colors. But she must keep this a secret to avoid being accused of witchcraft. When Isobel meets a young and rather complicated Nathaniel Hawthorne in Salem, the two are drawn toward each other. Then, her opium-addicted apothecary husband sails off on ship as a medic, leaving her to fend for herself in the New World. As She and Nathaniel draw closer, Isobel becomes the muse for his most famous character, Hester Prynne, in the Scarlet Letter.

I don't remember much beyond the broad details of The Scarlet Letter from when I read it in high school, but that didn't impact my enjoyment of this story. I don't think you even need to have read the source material to enjoy this. It is a well-written and utterly compelling work of historical fiction. Isobel is a vividly written character, and I rooted for her throughout her trials. The book handles some difficult themes, such as the witch trials and their ongoing aftermath, the beginnings of the Underground Railroad, class struggles, and the societal constraints placed on women. But there are also themes of forbidden love, hope, bravery, and the resilience and strength of women.

Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin's Press for the opportunity to review this ARC. I thoroughly enjoyed it!

Pub Date is October 4, 2022

Goodreads rating: 4.28

My steep was Violet Rose Black Tea from Simpson Vail teas.

SYNOPSIS: Named a Most Anticipated Book for Fall by Goodreads and New York Post •An October Indie Next List Pick • An October LibraryReads Pick

A vivid reimagining of the woman who inspired Hester Prynne, the tragic heroine of Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, and a journey into the enduring legacy of New England's witchcraft trials.

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 Glasgow 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 needleworker, 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?

In this sensuous and hypnotizing tale, a young immigrant woman grapples with our country's complicated past, and learns that America's ideas of freedom and liberty often fall short of their promise. Interwoven with Isobel and Nathaniel's story is a vivid interrogation of who gets to be a "real" American in the first half of the 19th century, a depiction of the early days of the Underground Railroad in New England, and atmospheric interstitials that capture the long history of "unusual" women being accused of witchcraft. Meticulously researched yet evocatively imagined, Laurie Lico Albanese's Hester is a timeless tale of art, ambition, and desire that examines the roots of female creative power and the men who try to shut it down.

1 view0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page