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Review: The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, Katherine Howe

This dual narrative alternates between Connie Goodwin, a 20th century PhD candidate in history searching for that elusive beast, an original primary source, and the story of a peculiar line of women in 17th and 18th century Salem who are accused of witchcraft, perhaps not entirely without basis.  Connie’s life is about little other than history; she is thrilled when she stumbles on clues towards what may be a lost Salem witch.  As she makes friends – perhaps more than friends – with attractive restorer Sam, digs around in archives, and attempts to clean her grandmother’s colonial house, Connie realizes that there are larger forces at work than just her search for the physick book of Deliverance Dane.

I’m not sure what I was expecting when I picked this up, but I certainly got more than that!  I loved this book.  I could relate to Connie very, very well.  She’s a PhD student and I’m only a lowly MA student, but much of our experience and love for history is very similar.  I loved reading about her research, poking through archives full of that old book smell, and her discoveries.  I haven’t been able to poke through archives on my own yet but I can’t wait for an excuse!  Anyway, being able to relate to the protagonist so well made this book for me.

I also found the idea very clever.  We’re so caught up in the fact that there weren’t witches at Salem that we miss out on the fun of pretending that there were, and moreover that magic exists.  I loved this idea and I found the way it was executed very well done; it fits with what I know of the Salem witch trials but still provides something new and different.

As far as the villain goes, I figured that out, but I enjoyed the journey to Connie’s discovery.  Her relationship with her mother was particularly interesting; she seems to be able to “see” her mother over the phone without even realizing that she’s doing it or that it’s unusual.  That was the first hint I had regarding any abilities.  I also liked the way things developed between them over time.  I loved the character of Sam, who restores old buildings for a living.  Can I have his job?  Someone please say yes.

Anyway, I’m doing a very sorry job of expressing how much I liked this book!  Its 350+ pages flew by.  I had dreams about it.  I thought it was well told, fast paced, engrossing, and interesting.  If I had to pick one thing I didn’t like, it was a few of the longer flashbacks; some of the characters felt like their stories had already been told.  Regardless, I liked Deliverance, and I didn’t mind when we heard about her or her daughter.

I would definitely recommend this book.  It works as historical fiction but it also works as a regular novel.  I loved reading it and maybe you would too.

Available via IndieBound, Powell’s, Amazon, and Amazon UK.

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