Amity and Sorrow by Peggy Riley

amityandsorrowI didn’t think I was going to read Amity and Sorrow. Not really what I’m into at the moment, is what I thought. Though I am interested in religion and cults I was concerned that this was going to stray into the territory of bonnet lit (Amish and Mennonite romances) given the cover illustration of the North American edition (the UK edition has a very different cover). I must admit, however, that Amity and Sorrow was not half bad.

Amity and Sorrow are sisters on the run with their mother Amaranth from their father, the leader of a cult-like Christian sect, reminiscent of hard core Mormons. Due to an unexpected accident they end up on a farm in rural Oklahoma. Until now Sorrow has always acted as her father’s Oracle and resists their move. She is also prone to arson and believes that the end of days will come in flames.

Overall, first time author Peggy Riley does an astounding job or portraying what life would be like for a teenager leaving an insular cult and finding herself out in the unfamiliar world of men. Unfortunately this is somewhat undermined by Riley’s portrayal of Amaranth, who is both still under the thrall of her charismatic husband and his arcane rules and only too ready to jump into bed with the farmer who takes them in. Amaranth’s character and the story as a whole would have been stronger and more compelling if she had not given into her desires so effortlessly.

Who would like this book? I suspect Amity and Sorrow is going to be a big book this spring and summer. It will undoubtedly be marketed as a great book club pick: focused on women’s experiences with enough controversy to spark good discussion. It reminded me of David Ebershoff’s The 19th Wife, which depicts the estrangement of Brigham Young’s wife in the early days of Mormonism. For research Riley relied quite heavily on Under the Banner of Heaven by noted journalist Jon Krakauer, which is a fascinating account of Mormon fundamentalists in the United States and Canada. Also out this spring is Elders by Ryan McIlvain, a novel dealing with Mormon missionaries in Brazil.