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Sandra Wagner-Wright
Ambition, Arrogance & Pride: Families & Rivals in 18th Century Salem
Three Weddings – Two Rival Families In 1735 Richard Derby, a ship’s master in colonial Salem, Massachusetts, married Mary Hodges, a merchant’s daughter. The alliance was good business, and Mary Hodges was a willing bride. Richard prospered, retired from the sea, and founded his own merchant house. With one exception, Richard’s sons went to sea. Hasket Derby stayed ashore, learning to manage the trading network his father built. George Crowninshield was the youngest of four brothers. Three sailed for Salem merchants. Richard Derby enticed George to sail for him by matching George with his daughter Mary. George knew a good opportunity when he saw it. Mary wanted more than a house and children, but marriage was her only option. “Marry me,” George said. “Be my partner.” Eliza Crowninshield set her cap for a husband who would bring her wealth and status. She craved a brick house superior to any other dwelling in Salem. She wanted to dress at the height of fashion and entertain lavishly. Hasket Derby needed a wife as ambitious as he was. He expected to lead the Salem business community and required a wife to complement his achievements. Together, they became the “First Family” of Salem. Against the backdrop of tensions between Great Britain and her American colonies, George and Hasket built their trading empires. After Americans gained independence in 1783, their sons sailed everywhere trade took place from the West Indies to the Baltic Sea, from Isle de France to Batavia, India, and China. Inspired by true events, this is the story of two rival families who made their fortunes in the new United States of America.
Plot/Idea: 6 out of 10
Originality: 5 out of 10
Prose: 7 out of 10
Character/Execution: 7 out of 10
Overall: 6.25 out of 10


Plot/Idea: This is an engaging, multi-generational story of prominent families in 18th century Salem as they navigate both their own private dramas and those of an increasingly tumultuous world. Meticulously researched and told with an impressive attention to detail, this work of historical fiction is an entertaining and appealing read. The plot wavers somewhat at the end and lacks a smooth transition between generations, as newly introduced characters become the narrative's focus.

Prose: Wagner-Wright's prose is both engaging and descriptive, and her attention to detail and passion for the families' history shines through with every word. The delightful blend of skilled storytelling and historical accuracy charms with both its characters and its straightforward, yet beautifully written, prose.

Originality: Although the idea itself may not overwhelm with its originality, the narrative flow, evocative prose, and thoughtful attention to detail make it stand out as a fine example of colonial historical fiction.

Character/Execution: The characters are undeniably the story's backbone, and they are stunningly portrayed—most notably Mary, who the novel follows from young womanhood through late adulthood. Readers will grieve with her, celebrate with her, and observe with her as her life becomes more uncertain, and this is undoubtedly one of the most important reasons why this tale is such an enjoyable read.

Date Submitted: May 04, 2023