First Night Review

First NightRod Clark reviewing for

Rating: Excellent!

Tom Weston’s new book First Night, starts as a history lesson, but soon gets lively. Sarah, a young Puritan girl, died in Boston in 1688, but after her death she was falsely accused of witchcraft. Her spirit cannot rest until she proves her innocence, but when she arises from her grave in spirit form, much has changed in Boston. Centuries have passed and metal boxes not pulled by horses glide over streets that are smooth and no longer cobble stoned. Has she arrived in hell? Not exactly, more like 21st century Boston. Fortunately she runs into (or more accurately runs through!) two young sisters she meets on the street; 16-year-old Alexandra and her younger sister Jackie. When they realize their new acquaintance is a ghost, Jackie and Alex decide to befriend and help her if they can–but they soon find out that helping Sarah is easier said than done.
They start by giving Sarah a tour of modern day Boston while Sarah teaches them much about her era. Everyone, it appears, can see and hear Sarah, even though her form is not solid, and things can pass through her. Everyone asumes she is some kind of tour guide in historical dress. The interactions between Sarah and the sisters, colored by a gap of more than three centuries, are often hilarious. The exchange of information between the girls about the 17th and 21st centuries is lively, instructive, and rich with historical color and detail about present day and 17th century Boston. Their dialog also creates fascinating contrasts between the two eras, illuminating the dramatic differences in the two cultures—and the sins and virtues of each.

As they get to know Sarah better, Alex and Jackie discover that she has arrived in their age to find an advocate who can argue before “The Court of Spirits” on her behalf and defend her from the false charge of witchcraft. Jackie, who has always enjoyed watching Perry Mason, agrees to be Sarah’s advocate—but in the instant she does, she is transported with Sarah to confront that frightening tribunal in person, and the adventure begins in earnest.

The adventure that unfolds is rich with scariness, humor, history and more than a little mystery. Why does Sarah sometimes find it difficult to deny the charge of witchcraft? If Sarah is innocent, why are her parents testifying against her? What is the Devil’s Book, and how can knowledge of it help Sarah’s Case? What is role of the 17th century preacher Cotton Mather in all of this? As the two sisters strive to help Sarah fight the charges against her, they discover they have become catalysts in a deeper battle: the spiritual struggle of a dead girl to expiate the guilt she feels over her parent’s sorrow as she lay dying. What begins as a ghost story becomes a story of spiritual growth and salvation, not only for a young girl, but also for a Puritan culture in which many sought moral purity, yet some sent accused witches to their deaths. This is an excellent book on many levels, and may be read with great pleasure by teenagers and adults alike.

A big thanks to Rod and