Finally, I have finished The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe. Unlike my last review, I am thoroughly and utterly pleased with the telling of this somewhat fictional narrative. It should be understood that this book is exactly that: a work of fiction. While the names are all real, the dates are accurate, and the settings and information and even some of the words said are historically correct, it is still a work of historical fiction.
However, and this is a big however, it is one of the most enjoyable, well-researched books on the history of the trials of Salem that I have ever seen. Why is it both true history and fiction? It is because Katherine Howe got her doctorate in the subject of American and New England Studies at Boston University, and specifically focused her research on the areas of feminism, religion, the trials of Salem, the idea of magic – both real and fake, and everything having to deal with differentiating the fact from the fiction of witchcraft in early America and Europe. This research heavily permeates the story, which is almost a literary telling of facts than a fictional account of the protagonist, Constance Goodwin.
But, don’t let the fact that the narrative is rich in history throw you; the story is excellent. There is romance, there is magic, there is a bad guy, there is a rush to find an ancient book of shadows, and there is a dog named Arlo who has the funniest way of maybe not actually being a dog. This book is like The Da Vinci Code for people who are interested in witchcraft and paganism. While some of the language used in conversation between characters can become a bit muddled, as the author writes many of these dialogues using a Brahmin dialect, that is nowhere near the inconvenience that some other reviews of the book have stated.
Howe switches back and forth between modern day Connie, the protagonist, and the women of the past: Deliverance who was followed by Mercy who was followed by Prudence, and it seems the line descended until it came to Constance. Doing so, the author gives us a wonderful glimpse of the trials, the truth behind the actual, historical practice of folk magic in that era, as well as provides us with a healthy serving of mystery, suspense, and thrills.
If there is anything negative to say, I must admit that I found it slightly disagreeable that the witches of the story were, as is often portrayed in media and literature, as ‘real witches.’ That is, that they have some sort of innate magic that the rest of us don’t have, and that spells will only work when voiced by one of these actual witches. Though, towards the end, the original witch of the story, Deliverance, does say that everyone works magic, though they may not realize what they’re doing. So, it is redeemed there. Of course, this element of hereditary witchcraft is used simply as a plot device, and the author expresses as much.
For a first novel, especially a first novel about such an overly-written-about subject, I found the story fresh, the information enthralling, and I was left with a sense of completeness after having finished the novel. The author wraps everything up neatly, and leaves you hoping this book is just the first in a long line of similar books. 5 out of 5 broomsticks! Pick up your copy today! You can get it on Amazon.com for around $11. The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane is the first novel by Katherine Howe, the descendant of two Salem witches – one who died, and one who survived. It is published through Hyperion, and it is a soon to be classic and must-have for anyone interested in the history of real folk magic.
Love and Lyte,