Publisher and Publication Date: Kerrin Willis. April 5, 2022.
Genre: Historical fiction.
Source: I received a complimentary e-book copy from Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours and Kerrin Willis. I am not required to write a positive review.
Audience: Readers of historical fiction. Readers of early American history.
Rating: Very good.
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About the Author:
Kerrin Willis lives in Southeastern Massachusetts with her two daughters and her dog, Austen. She is a high school English teacher who prides herself on being a feminist and a strong protagonist in her own story, and she would probably have been burned as a witch in colonial New England. Kerrin can usually be found pausing The Little Mermaid and subjecting her daughters to a lecture on the dangers of giving up their voices.
Kerrin has a BA in English from Stonehill College, and MA in English from Simmons College, and is currently working on her MFA in Fiction from Southern New Hampshire University.
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The direct link: Iron & Fire.
“Whether you’re a fan of passionate romance, a detective in search of a mystery, or a history buff looking to learn more about what happened after Plymouth Rock, Iron & Fire has something for everyone. While Verity and Kit are the main attractions, the family relationships were my favorite parts- especially the bonds between the cheeky eldest Parker sisters. I learned quite a bit about things from my own backyard I knew nothing about- and most appreciated that for a novel that took place nearly 350 years ago, the characters and their issues felt modern and relatable. A fast read that will stick with you after you turn the final page!” Meredith Bickford, MA MEd
“Iron and Fire masterfully depicts Puritan New England in a story that seamlessly blends themes of love, war, and family. Verity Parker, the headstrong protagonist, challenges nearly every “norm” of Puritan society. Throughout the course of the novel, Verity seeks to define her purpose; oftentimes she is trapped deciding between meeting the expectations of her family or embracing her divergent worldview. In particular, Verity’s conception of humanity will make her an endearing and relatable character for Willis’ audience; unlike her peers, Verity’s notion of justice and community extends far beyond societal limitations, making her worldview far more relevant for modern readers.
Beyond Verity, Willis incorporates a series of complex characters whose subtle growth help shape the novel into a well-rounded story. Each character faces a conflict that calls their identities and beliefs into question. It is unlikely that readers will not be able to find one character with whom they can relate to. Willis’ ability to interweave these intricate story lines is captivating!” ~ Megan Johnson, MEd
“In her debut novel, Kerrin Willis captures the heart of American colonial historical fiction with her words and characters. Iron & Fire, set during the King Phillip War in southeastern Massachusetts, explores the themes of family dynamics, love, and the voice of independent women living in a time when silence was the standard…. The writing style is fluent and peppered with wit and descriptive prose balanced throughout the dialogue. The novel reads quickly, while the characters stay with you. Iron & Fire is an engaging, character-driven novel that is strongly recommended” ~Kimberly Rocha, MA MEd
1675 — Plymouth Colony — Verity Parker promised to look after her family.
Raised among the bookshops and turmoil of Reformation London, Verity now finds herself in Puritan New England, where she must learn to keep her head down and her mouth shut, or risk dire consequences. The only person who values her tenacity is Kit, the heretical ironworker she has been forbidden to see. When King Philip’s War breaks out, Verity must stay silent as the Puritan elders spread hateful rhetoric about the “savages” in the forest. When she witnesses a young girl die in childbirth, Verity must stand by as neighbors blame God’s vengeance. But when tragedy strikes her own home, Verity must choose between her duty to her family and her love for Kit. Will she choose to keep the peace, or will she defy the leaders of the colony for a chance at happiness?
Set against the backdrop of King Philip’s War, the bloodiest war per capita in American history, Iron & Fire explores the experience of a clever, educated woman at a time when being so often resulted in death. Perfect for fans of Amy Belding Brown’s Flight of the Sparrow, or Elizabeth George Speare’s The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Iron & Fire was written for those who read the original American Girl series as children and are now all grown up.
Talk around the dinner table that afternoon revolved mainly around the three Indians who had been arrested for the murder of the praying Indian, John Sassamon. Verity’s eldest stepbrothers, Jon and Diah, questioned their father about the incident, and Obadiah Elston was more than pleased to share the gritty details. Verity sat in silence between Hannah and Mercy, swirling her stew around with her spoon, as Obadiah recounted the story. Sassamon, a Massachusett Indian who had converted to Christianity and been educated at Harvard College, had been found beneath the ice of Assawompset pond a few months past, his neck badly broken. It was said that he had angered the Wampanoag chief, King Philip, and that Philip had ordered his murder.
Obadiah was clearly enjoying his personal pulpit at the head of the table, and Verity’s face and
hands grew hot in annoyance as he said, “Soon, the savage’s executioners will feel the wrath of
God around their own necks, as is fitting.”
“How can you call it fitting to hang men for the crime of murder? Does that not make the men who pass the sentence murderers as well?” Verity barely realized she had spoken aloud until she felt eight pairs of eyes staring at her in astonishment. Joseph, who sat directly across the table from his stepsister, looked at her with eyes wide enough to fall clean out of his head, and next to him, little Grace’s lips formed a perfect “O” at the impertinence of Verity’s question. Obadiah cleared his throat, and said pointedly to Verity, “An eye for an eye, Mistress Parker. Good Christian men,” he emphasized the word, “must show King Philip that those who attack the English, or those who give us succor, will face the vengeance of the Lord.” He punctuated this point with his spoon, before digging into his meal. Obadiah was finished with the discussion, and as such, there would be no more talk until after the meal was completed.
Was such an aggressive warning necessary? The few Indians Verity had seen appeared to be peaceful, but they didn’t represent the whole of their people any more than she and her family represented the entire colony of Plymouth. Verity had been taught in the Quaker meetings of her childhood about the inward light of God, inherent in each person on earth, regardless of country or creed. Surely that light existed within the Indians, as well as the English?
And yet, she recalled her father reading from the works of George Fox, founder of the Quaker Society of Friends, that Light would not grow if not tended to. If the Indians were just as likely as the English to house a connection to the Almighty, then they were also just as likely to ignore it in favor of their more immediate needs.
Verity turned these questions over in her head as she finished her meal, working to make sense of them. The shadows from the hearth fire danced on the walls of the keeping room, giving an air of foreboding to what had previously seemed to be a simple Sunday dinner. Perhaps it was the shadows, undulating on the walls like primal spirits of a time long past, but an icy chill ran down the base of Verity’s spine as she had a terrifying thought.
“What will we do if the Indians attack?” The question hung in the air for a beat, as though Verity’s giving voice to their fear had rendered them all momentarily mute.
Her mother finally broke the silence.
“Do, child?” Her spoon paused halfway between the table and her lips. “We will pray that they do not attack.”
“But if they do….”
Jon spoke up, squaring his shoulders with the authority that came from being the eldest son. “The Indians are not to be trusted. There’s been talk — I don’t wish to frighten you — but we’d best be prepared.” He leaned forward in his chair. “The counsel talks of building three additional garrison houses. In the event of an attack by the Indians, the safest plan would be to move straight to the nearest garrison and remain there until the danger has passed.”
“How will the danger pass?” Verity met his eyes squarely, challenging him to give her a satisfactory answer.
“Why, we will fight them, of course,” Jon’s eyes shone. “The women and children will be safe in
the garrison, and the men will show the heathens what happens when they attack our
“All the men who are of an age to fight will do so.” Obadiah’s words tempered his son’s fervor. At 14, Jon considered himself a man. His father, however, did not, and this was a point of contention in the home. “The Bible tells us that there is a time for war, and a time for peace. We will not wage war against the Indians unless provoked, but if they burn our farms and violate our women, we must retaliate.”
A rock settled in Verity’s stomach at the fervor in the men’s eyes. She wanted to confront her stepfather and ask him if he’d ever experienced war, or if he thought the Indian men were as fiercely protective of their women and children as he was of his own, but she knew it would come to naught. Again, she would be seen as impertinent. Again, someone would tell her stepfather that he needed to keep a better control on her tongue. Again, her mother and sister would give her that look of disappointed confusion, silently asking Verity why she can’t just fit in their new world.
Copyright © 2022 by Kerrin Willis
I don’t come across too many books that are early American historical fiction. It is not a time period that is common. It is actually rare. This is the first reason why I love this story. It is unique in a sea of historical fiction books which are often World War II in time period. Iron & Fire is refreshing and notable.
A second reason why I love this story is the main character, Verity. She is a brave and feisty young woman living in the male dominated new world of 1600s America. She’s mouthy. Intelligent. Brave. A person of convictions and principle. She is a person of purpose. She is a person of strong convictions. She grieves her father. There are things about her character I admire, understand, and feel a kinship towards.
The first few pages thrust me into the time period of Puritan culture and society. I believe this story is strong in showing what Puritan life was like during this time period. This includes the threat of the Native American people. In the story, they are called Indians.
What I do wish had been included in the story, even though it would’ve made it longer, is the active role of Native Americans. Instead, they are a backdrop. I am told what they’ve done. I am told what kind of housing they live in and where they live, etc. I am told about the death of one who had become a Christian. I know them through the conversations and fears of the Puritan people. I am shown the impact of the killings of the Puritans. The fear of the Native Americans and the wars with them is a strong outer conflict.
Verity goes through a period of time where she questions the things she’s been taught. It is easy for her to rebel against a domineering stepfather. She questions her faith, and the differences of what she’d been taught under her father as opposed to her stepfather’s beliefs. This is common for a person of her age to ponder these things. However, it is not common for a woman of this era to outwardly speak her mind (not a bad thing, just not common.) These things bring inner conflicts to the story.
The story has a good pace.
The story is told in linear or chronological form.
Overall, the ending is satisfactory and solid.
Themes in Iron & Fire: Survival, grief, justice, hope, charity, wisdom, conformity, injustice, rebellion, peace, romance, sacrifice, fear, guilt, and courage.