The Physick Book of Deliverance
Author: Katherine Howe
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Genre: Historical Fiction
Format: Paperback, Ebook, audio Book
Publisher: Hyperion; 1 Reprint edition (April 6, 2010)
Release Date: 2009
Recommended Reading: AGE+ 18
OVERALL THOUGHTS: Such a fun read. As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, I’m a big fan of all things witchy as well as kind of a history nut. On both of those levels The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane delivered. Katherine Howe brings readers back in time, into the dingy cells and back to the gallows and yet you’re wondering around modern-day Massachusetts with Harvard student Connie Goodwin. Howe brought the Salem Witch trials to life and made intent matter more than practice. What Howe did superbly was make that a lesson of the past that carried into Connie’s present. Why only 3.5 out of 5 you ask. Good question. I so badly wanted to give this book a 5 but, unfortunately, there were a few things that I couldn’t get past: a large discrepancy and a blatantly obvious antagonist.
SYNOPSIS: 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.
THE LOWDOWN: Let’s get the not so great part out of the way. The discrepancy, at the beginning of the book: Connie explains to her friend (Liz) that she has no memories of her grandmother. She thinks she might have one vague cloudy memory but she is unsure of even that one’s validity. BUT then by the end of the book, during one of the many moments of recollection Connie has throughout the story, she has many memories of that same grandmother. It just made the whole thing feel a bit inauthentic, like the focus was on the historical characters which kind of left Connie hanging out to dry, just a vessel through which their story was being told.
Now, on to the in your face antagonist: Connie is a grad student and though she is exceptional and wows all her advisors there is this one who takes a special interest in her (I’m not going tell you his name, I’m sure you’ll figure it out as soon as you meet him). Now, Katherine Howe wrote this character in a way that his crazy just jumps off the page at you. Having a man so into alchemy would seem strange in certain settings but not in a book about witch craft. It wasn’t that, it was his creepy mannerisms, his too intense questioning, and the moment we meet him he’s grilling her about the Salem Witch Trials, sitting there like Snidley Whiplash waiting for a train. From the very beginning readers know he’s up to no good but on the bright side, I didn’t think that it detracted from the story too much.
There were two parts that overshadowed the two annoyances mentioned above: the first was the flipping away from present day to take readers through bits of the history of the Salem Witch Trials and the second, was Connie’s love interest, Sam. So, he’s hunky and brainy, tattooed and educated, who isn’t attracted to that? There aren’t any super sexy sex scenes or anything, just two people quietly getting to know each other, who care for one another until then the past steps in and makes them both a part of something way bigger than themselves. Which, I found very realistic and thought it was great.
As I mentioned before, the story flips through time, which can, in a novel, become confusing and detract from the story; however, this was where Howe was able to display her expertise. She executed this style with grace and it enhanced the story a great deal. She brings readers back at opportune times that not only give you a taste of the history but helps to explain what’s happening with Connie in the present day. Where the magic comes from is the underlying narrative of this story and readers get to discover Connie’s personal history in a way that allows them to make discoveries with her.
Seriously though, this book was well written (which is always a plus) and was filled with the kind of magic that makes a reader believe in something. It’s a magic that is far removed from places like Hogwarts and Camelot. It’s a magic that resides in the faith and intent of people and the world we live in, no wands necessary. From the journey’s beginning to end readers will search with Connie for Deliverance Dane and her physic book, and root for her the whole way.