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Katherine Howe – The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

May 20, 2009

60. The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe (2009)

Length: 372 pages

Genre: Fiction/Historical Fiction

Started: 15 May 2009
Finished: 17 May 2009

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane will be published by Voice on 9 June 2009; you can pre-order your copy from Amazon here. Many thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy to review!

Where did it come from? From the publisher.
Why do I have it? I requested it because I tend to like historical/modern fiction hybrids, plus the Salem Witch trials are super-interesting. Plus, the main character is a graduate student!
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 31 March 2009
Verdict? Keeper

Salem: Good story,
but what if witches were real?
Grad student finds out…

Summary: Connie Goodwin is a Harvard graduate student in early American history, poised to become the star of her department, and being pressured by her advisor to find a really unique primary source around which to base her dissertation. She has also agreed to spend the summer cleaning out her grandmother’s house in Marblehead, Massachusetts, for sale – a tiny house from the late 1600s, surrounded by an overgrown garden, and never wired for electricity. When cleaning, she discovers a key tucked into a Bible, with a scrap of paper bearing the name “Deliverance Dane” inside it. When Deliverance turns out to be the name of a previously unknown victim of the Salem Witch Trials, Connie begins to suspect that the “receipt book” mentioned in her will might not be a ledger, but rather a witch’s shadow book. Connie’s been trained to think of the Salem Witch Trials as a manifestation of social and economic forces is Puritan New England, but now she has to consider history in a different light: What if the women condemned by the trials actually were witches?

Review: I thoroughly enjoyed this book from front to back. First of all, the treatment on the ARC was beautiful, rich textured paper on the fold-over cover done up to make it look like an old book. The story itself was equally wonderful, absorbing and atmospheric and drawing me through history and generations and dusty archives and stuffy New England clubs and creepy overgrown shacks in the woods at a well-measured pace. To be honest, I was predisposed to like this book, with so many of my favorite story elements: interlaced historical and modern storylines, research and following of clues through dusty archives (and a graduate student protagonist!), and a little bit of the fantastic/supernatural bleeding over into real life. Add to that a sympathetic main character, tons of well-drawn settings, an interesting premise, and equal splashes of intrigue and romance, and you’ve got me hooked.

My only real issue with this book is that it never quite managed to surprise me. Admittedly, Connie wasn’t working with the benefit of having read the back cover copy, but I still managed to arrive at most of the answers about what was going on before she did, and nothing ever happened that made me reconsider what had come before. But that’s a hard trick to pull off, and it’s hard to fault an author for putting together a story well enough that its ends follow consistently (if somewhat predictably) from its premise. I could also quibble about a couple of (very minor) plot points that were never quite resolved, and an overreliance on transliterating thick New England accents (in a few cases to the point of near-illegibility), but those are pretty minor points, and in the grand scheme of things, they affected my enjoyment of the book not at all. Once I was hooked in, nothing was going to tear me away. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: I think anyone who enjoyed The Historian, Kate Mosse’s Labyrinth, or Kathleen Kent’s The Heretic’s Daughter – or anyone who likes historical mysteries in general – will find this one an engagingly good read.

As a final note, if it is the night before a committee meeting about which you are feeling nervous (unnecessarily so, as it turns out, but you don’t know that yet), and you decide to try to calm yourself down by reading in bed for an hour, it is perhaps best NOT to pick this book up, as the entire first chapter consists of a graduate student squirming in front of her scarily imposing committee during an excruciatingly realistic depiction of qualifying exams, and this scene is not exactly soothing on the nerves. Trust me on this one.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Links: Official Book Website

Other Reviews: Caribousmom, On My Bookshelf, Muse Books Reviews, In Search of Giants, Minds Alive on the Shelves
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: Peter Petford slipped a long wooden spoon into the simmering iron pot of lentils hanging over the fire and tried to push the worry from his stomach.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 109: “Instead she pulled forth a tiny corn husk doll, dressed in a scrap of dimity with a faded yarn bow around its neck.” – a thin cotton fabric, white, dyed, or printed, woven with a stripe or check of heavier yarn.
  • p. 139: ““It’s based on a wimple, you know,” Connie said, offhand. “Or a hennin.” “What is?” he asked. “The witch hat that the little girl was wearing.”” – a conical or heart-shaped hat, sometimes extremely high, with a flowing veil or piece of starched linen about the crown, worn by women in the 15th century.
  • p. 193: ““A kabbalist notarikon that is thought to refer to Atah Gibor Leolam Adonai, an unspeakable name for God sometimes translated as “Lord God is eternally powerful.””” – a method of selecting a word and using each of its initial or final letters to stand for another word, forming a sentence or idea out of the words. Essentially an acronym, except you start with the word and come up with the phrase, instead of the other way around.
  • p. 284: ““Truth,” he repeated, pausing with significance. “In this age of relativisim and shoddy humanitarian nonsense. The hermeneutics of this, the gendering of that, discourses of the other thing.”” – the science of interpretation, esp. of the Scriptures

**All quotes come from an advance review copy and may not reflect the final published text.**

21 Comments leave one →
  1. May 20, 2009 5:34 am

    This sounds like an interesting book! I will have to keep it in mind!

  2. May 20, 2009 6:16 am

    I’m glad you liked this one. I also have it for review and plan on reading it soon. I really enjoyed The Historian and The Heretic’s Daughter, so I’m hoping I will enjoy this too.

    I suspect that first scene will make me uncomfortable too! I had an unusually difficult thesis defense last year and I’m terrified of the one for my MA this year.

  3. May 20, 2009 10:20 am

    I actually have this book, the Historian and the Heretic’s Daughter all on my TBR list. If only there were more hours in the day that I could devote to reading.

    Thanks for the great, honest review

  4. May 20, 2009 10:53 am

    I love your review format! Glad you liked the book and thank you for the link to my review!

  5. May 20, 2009 2:03 pm

    I like historical/modern fiction hybrids too (that’s a good phrase to describe it). This one sounds like a great read. I’ll have to add to to my tbr and keep my eye out for it.

  6. May 20, 2009 2:28 pm

    It’s so funny that the first chapter was rather true to life for you! I’m looking forward to reading this one.

  7. May 20, 2009 2:46 pm

    Kailana – I think it’s going to be a very popular summer book; witches might make you think “fall”, but most of the action happens during a hot, muggy summer, and it just generally felt like a good book to lose yourself in on the beach, on a plane, or on a porch swing. :)

    Meghan – My committee meetings stopped being bad after my quals, but I still get terrified of them anyways.

    Molly – Sounds like you could do a chunk of themed reading – grad students doing historical research, grad student doing historical research about the Salem Witch Trials, then a book just about the Salem Witch Trials! :)

    Wendy – I’m always happy to point out the hard work of my fellow book bloggers!

    Belle – Do you have any other hybrids to recommend? It’s a sub-genre I like, but don’t really know how to go about finding more other than by chance and word-of-mouth.

    bermudaonion – Yeah, unfortunate coincidence of timing, that was.

  8. May 20, 2009 3:20 pm

    This does sound interesting! I do love stories with grad students, and I love the two possible readings of witches. Very cool. Thanks for the review!

  9. May 20, 2009 3:53 pm

    Oh, I can definitely see that scene being scary for a grad student since it made me glad not to be one. I really liked this one too, although I do agree with some of your quibbles.

  10. May 20, 2009 4:06 pm

    I’m glad to see you liked this one as it’s on my shelf along with The Historian and The Heretic’s Daughter. I have read Laybrinth though and loved it. Have you read Sepulchre by her? I have it but haven’t read it yet.

  11. May 20, 2009 5:01 pm

    CJ – All of the grad student books I read always seem to be about history or literature grad students. I’ve only ever found one (The Darwin Conspiracy) about a biology student… and even he gave up biology for the history of science. Hrmph. :)

    DoB – Do you have a review somewhere that I’m not finding it, or have you just not posted it yet?

    Darlene – Heh, you and Molly could have a themed read! I’m in exactly the same boat as you re: Sepulchre – I’ve got it on the shelf but haven’t gotten around to reading it yet.

  12. May 20, 2009 11:13 pm

    Okay, you convinced me. Since I loved Heretic’s Daughter and The Historian, this one is going on the list.

    Thanks for the review!

  13. May 21, 2009 10:12 am

    softdrink – Well, since this book read like (more or less) an exact combination of the two, hopefully you’ll love it as well! :)

  14. May 21, 2009 3:32 pm

    I’ve got this one waiting on my pile! I’m glad you thought it was a keeper – I thought the book itself was beautiful too :)

  15. May 21, 2009 4:40 pm

    Corrinne – It was very hard not to start reading it as soon as I opened the envelope containing it… something about it just screams “READ ME” to me.

  16. May 23, 2009 7:18 pm

    I’ll have to add this to my list to watch for. It sounds great, thanks for the review :)

  17. May 25, 2009 12:30 pm

    Joanne – It’ll be out in a few weeks; hopefully you’ll be able to nab a copy of it. It really was excellent summer reading.

  18. June 9, 2009 10:20 am

    I really liked this one too and did review it. Some of it may have been predictable, but like you, it did not bother me at alll. I couldn’t put it down.


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