Search This Blog

Friday, September 23, 2011

Review: The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

  • Author: Katherine Howe
  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Voice (June 9, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1401340903

The story begins as Harvard graduate, Connie Goodwin passes her oral exams and advances to the next step in the doctoral candidacy process. Before she gets a chance to decide upon a topic for her doctoral thesis, Connie is asked by her eccentric mother (Grace) to prepare her grandmother’s long abandoned home to be sold in order to pay off the back taxes on the property. Her mother’s request couldn’t have come at a more inconvenient time for Connie as her advisor-cum-mentor, Manning Chilton, pressures her to find a new source-base for material on which to base her thesis rather than re-examining the same old tomes and references.

One dark night, while searching her grandmother’s house, Connie finds an old bible pressed inside of which is a key containing a rolled up slip of parchment on which is simply written the name Deliverance Dane. Curious at such a discovery, Connie begins researching the name learning that Deliverance Dane was a heretofore unknown woman accused and put to death for the crime of witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials.

Connie’s research of historical records indicates that Deliverance owned a receipt-book (a book of things received, such as spells, rituals, herbal-cures, recipes etc..)  which she passed down to her daughter upon her death. Sharing this information with Manning Chilton, Connie recognizes the receipt-book as the new source base for her dissertation. Joining Connie on her quest is Sam Hartley, a handsome steeplejack; Liz, her roommate; and Arlo her pet dog.   As Connie traces the path of the receipt-book through time she comes to discover her family connection to this magical legacy and must put her faith in the wisdom of the past to defeat a powerful enemy in the present.

The central mystery really draws the reader in and the author does an excellent job of weaving back and forth between the present of 1991 and the Salem Witch Trials (c. 1692); however the observant reader will discern the identity of Connie’s enemy long before she ever does. The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane is really three stories that cross the boundaries of time and space intersecting at various points. On the one hand you have Connie’s story, set in 1991; and on the other there is the story of Deliverance Dane’s life and legacy set in and around the time of the Salem Witch Trials circa 1692. Finally, there is the path of the receipt-book that changes owners and forms through history.

The author does an excellent job of balancing magic and reality while still honoring the history of the Witch Trials at Salem. I really liked the flavor of magic as practiced by Deliverance Dane and enjoyed the fact that the author chose to use actual practices in the fictional world of Connie Goodwin such as the description of the Sieve and the Scissors for divination and the “Method for the Redress of Fitts” and would have loved it had she included more such examples. If you like magical-fiction with a touch of history, romance, and mystery…then this is the book for you. 

Carolina Dean 




Melissa said...

That sounds like exactly the kind of book I like! I hadn't heard of it, so thanks for the review. Off to make a purchase....

Carolina Dean said...

I got my copy on amazon for one cent (plus 3.99 S+H)