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 the story of 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.
This book was not "spooky" or "bedeviling." It was, however, an awesome piece of historical fiction. The interludes featuring Deliverance and her ancestors were the most interesting parts of the story. Unfortunately, Connie's end of the story didn't quite keep up. It wasn't boring so much as drawn out. Towards the end of the book, Connie's story was just as interesting as Deliverance's, although the two were very different. The historic parts of the book were fascinating because of the light they shed on the Salem Witch Trials and what it was like for the accused women. Connie's story was more academic, but the love story was sweet.
The biggest reason Connie's story didn't interest me as much as Deliverance's is the book's extremely long exposition. Two thirds of the book, at least, are mainly exposition, detailing Connie's search for the physick book. It was interesting, peppered with historical facts with a good amount of research behind them. But a description of a scholarly hunt for a historical book should not take up over 200 pages. Again, however, once Connie's story picked up, it was really very good. It just took a while to get there.
I have a couple other little problems with The Physick Book, but nothing else major. Howe uses the suspense technique of keeping her character from realizing something excruciatingly obvious, which annoys me to no end. And I found some of her generalizations about New Englanders, "Yankees," a bit untrue. But I must admit that Howe is a talented writer, even if she draws her story out a bit too long.
Despite being a realistic, thought-provoking piece of historical fiction, I can only give this book three stars. After all, the actual historical fiction chapters make up less than a third of the book, and their contemporary counterparts don't quite match them in quality. The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane is a book I would recommend to anyone interested in the Salem Witch Trials or America's occult history, because Howe does a very good job with that material. I would not recommend it to anyone looking for a book about magic, spells, and Harry Potter-like things.
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