The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane: Summary and book reviews of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe, plus links to an excerpt from The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane and a biography of Katherine Howe.
The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane
by Katherine Howe
Hardcover: Jun 2009,
Paperback: Apr 2010,
A spellbinding, beautifully written novel that moves between contemporary times and one of the most fascinating and disturbing periods in American history - the Salem witch trials.
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.
Katherine Howe's debut novel, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, is part historical fiction, part modern-day mystery, and part romance; unfortunately, it's a combination that Howe can't quite seem to weave into an engaging story.
The parts of the book that deal with Puritan midwife Deliverance Dane and her descendants contain some of the most convincing historical fiction I've encountered. Howe's detailed research and her love of the subject come through on every page; she sheds new light on a period of American history that has already had countless books written about it – not an easy feat to accomplish. The chapters that focus on earlier centuries are about much more than the Salem Witch Trials, though; they paint a vivid picture of what life was like for colonial women in the New World, particularly those with a gift for healing. Here, Howe writes with great depth and originality, drawing her readers into the story completely. These top-notch historical fiction sections are likely the reason the book is garnering so much attention.
I find that I can't recommend the novel whole-heartedly, however, as readers will have to overlook some relatively serious literary flaws to find it
enjoyable. I can't remember the last time I encountered a work with a plot as
utterly banal as is the one underlying the modern-day sections of The Physick
Book of Deliverance Dane. There is not a single element of the story that
the reader can't see coming a mile away. Amazingly, the current sections are
more predictable than those dealing with the Salem Witch Trials – and most
readers are well acquainted with the trials' outcomes. That misstep might be forgivable if her main character, an otherwise strong, intelligent woman, didn't come across as completely oblivious to unfolding events; it frustrates the reader to watch this character be utterly shocked by the obvious. The romance
the heroine embarks upon is likewise lackluster.
Also detracting from the fine historical fiction is the one-dimensionality of Howe's present-day characters. The author breathes such life into Deliverance Dane and her daughter, Mercy, and yet somehow can't manage the same with the
other entities she creates. Several major characters are nothing but caricatures, as flat as cardboard.
Finally, the book drifts from historical fiction into the realm of fantasy as the magic becomes real and it becomes apparent that Deliverance and her descendants had some sort of paranormal ability. I personally felt this weakened the book; Howe's forays into history felt very believable, but injecting an element of the mystical into these sections made them seem much less so. Some readers, however, may discover this additional facet of the book adds interest and will find it entertaining rather than objectionable.
The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane is a quick read, and probably a good
choice for those looking for a "beach book" that's a bit apart from the norm.
Its fast pace and interesting portrayal of life in the 17th century makes it worth perusing, but it is likely those wanting a well-written historical mystery will find it unsatisfying. - Kim Kovacs
This charming novel is both a tale of New England grad-student life in 1991 and the Salem witch hunts in 1692...I liked this book very much.
Howe's habit of ending chapters with cliffhangers are straight out of the thriller playbook, the writing is solid overall ... should appeal to readers who enjoyed The Heretic's Daughter.
This enjoyable novel is too slow-paced to be considered a thriller, but it's a solid selection that may appeal to readers who enjoyed recent novels about Salem's witches.
Informative, though not as creepy as it purports to be.
Starred Review. In all a keen and magical historical mystery laced with romance and sly digs at society's persistent underestimation of women.
Matthew Pearl, author of The Poe Shadow and The Dante Club
A fresh present-day story infused with an original take on popular history. Forget broomsticks and pointy hats; here are witches that could well be walking among us today. This debut novel flows with poetic charm and eloquence that achieves high literary merit while concocting a gripping supernatural puzzler. Katherine Howe's talent is spellbinding.
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by Sally N Not Your Average Salem Witch Story I found this story absolutely fascinating. Set in the current time period and written in a style both elegant and entertaining, Howe skillfully weaves a tale of mystery, romance and a discovery of untold family secrets. This book left me hungry for... Read More
Daughters of the Witching Hill brings history to life in a vivid and wrenching account of a family sustained by love as they try to survive the hysteria of a witch-hunt.
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