Title: The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane
Author: Katherine Howe
Publisher: Voice 2009
Genre: Historical fiction (well, sort of)
Rating: 5 / 5 stars
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction; A to Z – P; Mount TBR; Semi Charmed Challenge – Place I’ve Always Wanted to Visit (Salem, Massachusetts)
How I Got It: I own it!
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.
Beautifully written story across the years. I love it when an author competently bridges decade gaps to create a cohesive storyline. Some of my favorite parts were the interludes set in the 1690s and 1700s. Howe manages to create believable worlds, characters, and grounded settings. The detail that she put into the descriptions of the houses and clothing was very remarkable.
I loved the characters and connected immediately with Connie. She may be a bit too serious and a bit too much a loner, but she feels like me in another life. I loved how Connie took the logical steps in solving the mystery of the key. I could see myself following in her footsteps, moving from clue to clue, realizations dawning. The mystery wasn’t hard to guess, but the book was written in such a way that I kept reading, not caring that I knew the ending.
After speeding through the book, I read Howe’s notes at the back. They made my love of the book make sense. Howe is a historian specializing in New England and Colonial America. She based Prudence Bartlett on Martha Ballard — famous midwife of the early American period. I’ve read her journals. Now I see why I felt those parts were familiar. Howe based Deliverance’s grimoire on the Key of Solomon. I never read it, but read of it. I think How’s attention to detail and historical basis resonated in the historian and academic in me. They made me love the novel even more.