Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe

(Note to readers, I kept referring to this book in my head as the Physick Book of Danity Kane, which, um, would be a very different book indeed. Damn you MTV!)

I loved the set up of this novel. Connie, a rather reserved student recently admitted to the American History PhD program at Harvard, is pressed by her thesis advisor to find an unstudied primary document. She would love to begin her research, but her mother coerces her to spend the summer in a crumbling family house in historic Salem. Once there, she begins to unravel a mystery. This is exactly my kind of book. I love books where the protagonist has to do research in crumbling archives, chasing clues here and there (and not just doing lame searches on google), making logical jumps, throw in a big bad and we’re set!

That being said, I had some problems with it.


I’m sure you can guess that the mystery deals with witches. It is set in Salem, after all. Howe re-imagines the Salem Witch trials. And I loved how she managed to go back and forth from present day to vignettes of Deliverance Dane and her family in the late 1600s. I really enjoyed how Connie begins knowing almost nothing of her family history to being wrapped up in research that slowly reveals that she is related to a convicted Salem witch.

Mainly I felt like Connie was really slow on the uptake. She has visions, she has glowy blue lights emanating from her fingers, she magically rejuvenates dead plants. And yet. And yet it isn’t until the last bit of the book that she figures out that she has magic in her. Add that into her slow researching and it was more than a little frustrating. Furthermore, her mother knew the entire time, or seems to have known, so why on earth didn’t she share this knowledge with Connie? WHY??? Yes Connie is a skeptic, but good gravy!

I also had problems with her thesis advisor’s motivations. From the start he was a shadowy character, I didn’t trust him, I knew he was not one of the good guys. I found him menacing, intimidating, I was constantly wondering what his reasons were. I really enjoyed him – especially his popping up at her house after she casts the spell – but I just found the reveal anti-climatic. I was thinking he was a sorcerer, he wanted magic power for himself, he was secretly hunting down the mates of all of Deliverance’s family through the generations. Alas, he wasn’t any of those things.


Problems, notwithstanding, I really did enjoy this book. I loved the research especially. It did remind me in some ways of The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. The Physick Book is perhaps not as breathless as The Historian, but I think those that enjoyed that book would enjoy this one too.

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