Book Review : The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane
By Katherine Howe
Harvard graduate student Connie Goodwin needs to spend her summer doing research for her doctoral dissertation. But when her mother asks her to handle the sale of Connie’s grandmother’s abandoned home near Salem, she can’t refuse. As she is drawn deeper into the mysteries of the family house, Connie discovers an ancient key within a seventeenth-century Bible. The key contains a yellowing fragment of parchment with a name written upon it: Deliverance Dane. This discovery launches Connie on a quest–to find out who this woman was and to unearth a rare artifact of singular power: a physick book, its pages a secret repository for lost knowledge.
As the pieces of Deliverance’s harrowing story begin to fall into place, Connie is haunted by visions of the long-ago witch trials, and she begins to fear that she is more tied to Salem’s dark past then she could have ever imagined.
Written with astonishing conviction and grace, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane travels seamlessly between the witch trials of the 1690s and a modern woman’s story of mystery, intrigue, and revelation. (Courtesy of goodreads.com)
Adult Point of View
I loved the premise that there could have been actual witches in the 1600’s in Salem. And even better, that the descendants of those witches may not know their own heritage.
The writing is a step above the majority of books that I’ve read this summer. Howe uses a variety of sentences. Too many books restrict themselves to choppy sentences, as though the reader cannot maintain interest in reading any thought longer than ten words. I love her descriptions!
This is a quote describing the 4th of July fireworks (and it’s only one sentence):
“The last sparkling tendrils rained down on the innermost curve of Marblehead harbor, and a few air horns blew their approval from sailboats moored on the water, their wails mingling with the echo of the explosions overhead and the collective sign of townsfolk clustered on blankets in parks and on rooftops.” (p. 171)
I enjoyed the characters. Connie, is intelligent and waivers between being conceited and insecure – and recognizes her own inconsistencies. Sam is a dichotomy; he works as a steeplejack, restoring church steeples, while disregarding his education, he is agnostic and in a church everyday. Other than his stupid nose ring he was a delight. The sex scenes are not graphic, and it is a fairly clean book for language.
I also loved how the history and people of the Salem Witch Trials were woven into the story. Howe explains in the postscript that Deliverance Dane was a real person and survived the witch trials, though in the novel she does not live. Other women accused of witchcraft, Sarah Wildes, Rebecca Nurse, Susannah Martin, Sarah Good and Elizabeth Howe were all represented accurately in their personality and the dates of their execution. The author states that Sarah Good really did threaten from the gallows that “I am no more a witch than you are wizard, and if you take away my life, God will give you blood to drink.” (p. 365)
I really wanted to give this book 4 stars and just couldn’t because of a couple of problems:
1- The love interest has a nose ring. Really?!! Isn’t it fair to say that women want to fall in love, just a little with the hunky guy? His nose ring just blew it for me.
2- By the end all the pieces of the puzzle fit together too neatly. Especially in a book about witchcraft there should be a bit of mystery. This seems to be a common problem for new authors. Editors needs to step up and have authors recognize that it is a disservice to readers to have every element wrapped up in a neat little package.
3- The mystery of “who dunnit” was too obvious. I would have loved the culprit to have been her mentor, Janine. I don’t know what her motivation would be, but the groundwork was laid when Howe talked about how women will condemn one another.
I really did enjoy Howe’s debut novel and will look forward to reading more in the future.
3.75 out of 5 stars
- the Mother
If you liked this one try The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith and Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden and, of course, Harry Potter by J.K. Rowlings if you need a little magic.