A darkly quirky tale with enough twists and turns to make a tornado seem like a gentle rainfall, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane will keep you on the edge of your seat. The suspense is due partly, of course, to debut novelist Katherine Howe's frequent cliffhangers (who knew a story with frequent library scenes could be so compelling!), but it's also due to narrator Katherine Kellgren's expert inflections and pacing. A master of accents and tone, Kellgren's skills are put to good use in this tale that flashes back and forth between the academic world of Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1991 and the Puritanical one of Salem, Massachusetts 300 years earlier. You believe her equally as young Ph.D. candidate Connie Goodwin, embittered sextagenarian academic Manning Chilton, and the cold judges and hysterical accusers of the Salem Witch Trials.
Authors and historians (Howe is both) learned long ago that any account of the Salem Witch Trials offers a mesmerizing narrative. But Howe takes the conceit one step further. As Connie, read by Kellgren in a perfectly-cast sing-songy voice, begins considering her dissertation in American Colonial studies in earnest, she must move to her grandmother's thoroughly unmodern house for the summer. While there, a mysterious key and a piece of paper with the name Deliverance Dane drops out of a family Bible. In flashbacks to the 1690s, we learn of the real Deliverance Dane's life as a town healer and, ultimately, her conviction of practicing witchcraft. Meanwhile, back in the 20th century, we follow Connie's exhaustive search for Deliverance's elusive journal of recipes, of witchcraft, she doesn't know first for academic reasons then to save the life of her love interest. Along the way, as Kellgren's narration gets faster, louder, raspier, and stronger, we, like Connie, discover that perhaps there really were some magical women in Salem then, and now. Kelly Marages
Curious things start to happen when Connie finds the name "Deliverance Dane" on a yellowed scrap of paper inside an old Bible, and begins to have visions of a long ago woman condemned for practicing "physick," or herbal healing, on her neighbors in 1690s Salem.
Interspersed with modern-day sections are chapters on the actual witch trials, revealing the fascinating story of Deliverance Dane and how she got caught up in the tragic events. Connie meets an intriguing young steeplejack named Sam, who's also interested in the history of the area. But just as Connie starts to unravel some of the mysteries surrounding Deliverance's identity, Sam has a horrifying accident, and Connie has to figure out a way to save him that involves an ancient and mystical cure. And to do that, she needs to locate the actual "physick book" once owned by Deliverance Dane herself.
Immediately compelling, with powerful historic insight and detail, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane is that rare find - a literary first novel with a very commercial premise and pacing.
©2009 Katherine Howe; (P)2009 Hyperion
"In all, a keen and magical historical mystery laced with romance and sly digs at society's persistent underestimation of women." (Booklist)
The story was interesting enough to keep me genuinely curious as to the outcome, and I thoroughly enjoyed the historical flashbacks. The female characters were believable and interesting, but the males were a bit caricatured, so the climax wasn't much of a surprise. I do wish the author had been as thorough in her research of modern medical care as she was with the historical aspects, and the narrator's reading tended toward melodramatic. But the story of Deliverance and her family and Connie's journey toward discovery was engaging enough to make this book a worthwhile listen.
The book started off okay, but then it went off the rails. It starts off as a historical fiction, but it moves squarely into the realm of fantasy about half way through the book. The romance isn't terribly compelling, yet we are supposed to believe that the main character's love for the boy is the driving force behind everything else. Likewise, the villain character makes no sense whatsoever, and his motivation requires more suspension of disbelief than the witchcraft.
Great book...I love historical fiction and this one delivered...there are enough twists and turns to keep you on the edge of your seat and wanting to finish the book so you know what happens...I really enjoyed the seamless transition from 1991 to the 15th & 16th centuries...and you fall in love with the characters...I highly recommend this book...and because it is relatively clean I have also bought it and given it to my 14 year old book worm of a niece...
Steeped in the Salem hysteria of 1692 & brought to current times, time may have only lessened the social outcomes of being "different". the paranoia & fear of the unknown is still powerful, but never more powerful than it is in our own self. A mysterious, historical story of witches, religion & some cunning women!
I appreciated the in-depth historical research the author did for this book. In fact, the postscript was one of my favorite parts, as she explained which parts were historically accurate and which had been partly or wholly factionalized. Also, any graduate student or post-graduate will relate to the portrayal of grad student life which was clearly drawn from the author's own experience. I loved this book!
Wonderfully written and very well performed. This book is very enjoyable as well as having a more than realistic historic appeal.
I must say I was not only enthralled by this book but totally blown away. I just wish this was a series and the book didn't end so fast. I nearly fumed and ranted, and got out my Good Reads to leave a bad comment when she drops 'the recipe book' in the fire. How could someone who has such great respect for books do such a thing! We at the end of the book she does say that it's all on microfilm, but still, it's not the same thing!!
Other than that small hiccup I really enjoyed the book.
I liked this book a lot. It was recommended to me by Audible based on a previous listen: "A Discovery of Witches". I liked "discovery" better, but still really enjoyed this listen.
The book has a similar, creepy feeling. Not scary at all, just a feeling that something could be lurking around the next corner.
I would also compare this book to two others - well one book and a movie. The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane could be compared to National Treasure (not sure if its a book) - in some ways. It is similar in that it involves a search for something historical and there are a series of clues to unravel. I really enjoyed the look into history this book offered - albeit it highly fictional. I still felt I learned something about the Salem Witch trials and 'cunning' people of that day.
I think my favorite part was the going back and forth to different women in time, and thus my comparison to a third story: Joy Luck Club. In Joy Luck Club I enjoyed the understanding that steadily grew through the story as we learned more about each woman. The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane has that same feel to it - although it does not go as indepth about each woman. What we readers get is glances or flashes back in history that give insight into the current day. The connection to the past gains more momentum and meaning as the book moves on, which is why I think some reviewers say they thought the beginning of the book moved slowly.
When deciding to read this book I read some reviews. One person commented that the current day character was dull in comparison to the people of the past. I can understand that comment, but I wanted to offer a different opinion. I felt the current day character becomes more interesting as she becomes more connected with her past. I like that!
Anyway - good solid book. If you liked "Discovery of Witches", "National Treasure" and "Joy Luck Club" - this is a good book for you!
This book has some interesting ideas about the causes of the Salem witch trials but unfortunately degenerates into an overwrought supernatural thriller. After its pseudo-scholarly beginning, this is was not what I was expecting or had hoped for. While some interesting details of the trials are included, be aware that some of the author's so-called “facts” are inaccurate or have been discredited by current historical research.
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