Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane - Katherine Howe

Summary:  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 than she could have ever imagined.  (Summary from book - Image from )

My Review:  I’ve been sitting on this review for about a week (that means I finished the book but didn’t review it right away).  It seems I’m suffering from writer’s block, or at least the inability to express myself in any meaningful or articulate way.  So I’m not going to try (too hard, anyway).  Please forgive me and bear with me, because this could get dicey.

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane is a historical fiction novel, set in Salem, Massachusetts, and brimming with intrigue, romance, magic, and historical detail.  In 1991, Connie Goodwin is a graduate student who is supposed to be working on her dissertation when she stumbles across a mysterious key in her late grandmother’s house.  The key reveals the name of an accused witch who was rumored to possess an ancient spell book.  Connie is convinced she has found the perfect focus of her dissertation and becomes obsessed with tracking down the book’s whereabouts.  Unfortunately, there are those who will stop at nothing to keep her from uncovering the truth.  With every chapter, this story slips back in time to the late 1600s, just before the Salem witch trials, and follows the lives of of a line of mysteriously gifted women and the book they hand down through the generations.     

I had the opportunity to amble around Salem, MA a few years ago while visiting a friend (okay, it is RFS reviewer, Emily…please don’t camp outside her house).  Her hometown is quiet, gorgeous, and positively overflowing with historical sites.  I learned a lot about the history of the area, ate clam chowder, stood on the North Bridge, dipped my toes in the Atlantic, and even visited a graveyard filled with accused witches.  While I don’t profess to be an expert on the Salem witch trials, I closed this book feeling like I had been there for everything.  The author brought her setting and characters to life through her talent for writing and what I can only assume was a great deal of research.  Many of her fictional characters were inspired by real people, associated with real historical figures, and involved in actual historical events.  Each page left me mesmerized by life in the 1600s, watching events unfold, or in 1991, with Connie, obsessively digging for the truth.    

My one complaint about this book, and the reason I can’t quite give it 5 stars, is that it was fairly predictable.  I saw a lot of the “twists” long before they happened.  However, this is a very good book despite its predictability.   The history of the area, the house, and the lives of the women who lived there were absolutely fascinating.  I loved reading along as Connie uncovered bits and pieces of the past, and it seemed that each journey back into the late 1600s revealed even more of the story.  As for the ending and the more romantic, dangerous, and magical elements of the book?  Well, I won’t spoil things for you, but I think as long as you can let go of the tiniest sliver of reality and embrace the unexplainable, you’ll enjoy it as well.  Overall, I think that most readers will be captivated by The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane.

My Rating:  4.25 Stars 

For the sensitive reader:  Might have been one or two uses of profanity, but they barely registered.  A disturbing description of a physical exam given to accused Salem witches, and some violence surrounding their executions.   

Sum it up:  A fascinating step back in time. 

1 comment:

Gerbera Daisy Diaries said...

I read this awile ago...but I remember being disappointed. Not a favorite.


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