Laurie Lico Albanese


Stolen Beauty

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Who is the real Hester Prynne?


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 Scottish seamstress carrying generations of secrets. When her husband’s opium addiction and debts force them to flee Edinburgh, they sail off to America in the early 1800s. But only days after they arrive 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 Isobel meets the handsome, aspiring young writer, Nathaniel Hawthorne, the two are instantly drawn to one another. Nat is a man haunted by his ancestors’ role in the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, while Isobel 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 bewitchingly closer. Together, they are a muse and a dark storyteller—the enchanter and the enchanted. But which is which, and who holds the greater power?


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, 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.

Praise for Hester


“A masterpiece that should be required reading alongside Hawthorne’s classic tale of adultery. Enthralling, ambitions, and a total knockout.”

—Fiona David, New York Times bestselling author of The Magnolia Palace and The Lions of Fifth Avenue


“Hester is a vividly reimagined portrayal of the tragic heroine in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. Full of lush and colorful prose, Hester proves that a woman will do whatever she must to prosper, even when she is left with nothing but courage—and a few secrets of her own.”

—Sarah Penner, New York Times bestselling author of The Lost Apothecary


“A rich tapestry of a novel. In dreamlike yet vivid prose, Albanese weaves a story about 19th century Salem, a place with a dark history where secrets still abound, and conjures the life of Hawthorne’s muse, a woman whose skill and imagination are both the key to her survival and the source of others’ mistrust and envy. Vivid, complex and intricately detailed.”

—Christina Baker Kline, #1 New York Times bestselling author


“Laurie Lico Albanese has constructed a novel whose themes are at the heart of the so-called New World: Freedom and Unfreedom. At every turn of the plot, there is the conflict of privilege versus the lack, freedom or unfreedom. The reader is quickly enveloped in the familiar story of Salem, Massachusetts and its Witchcraft Trials, but the narrative is much more complex than the usual stereotypical witchcraft tale. Audacious and very entertaining, I truly enjoyed reading HESTER.

—Breena Clarke, author of the Oprah selection, River, Cross My Heart


“This page-turning and poignant novel beautifully imagines the untold life story of the woman who went down in literary history wearing a scarlet letter.”

—Alice Elliot Dark, author of In the Gloaming


“The diverse women at the heart of The Crucible, the Salem witch trials, and The Scarlet Letter at last get their say—in full throated technicolor. A luminous blend of fiction and truth, with an extraordinarily gifted heroine at its center, Hester weaves together a spellbinding tapestry of Salem history as it has never been told before.”

—Afia Atakora, author of Conjure Women