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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Book Review: The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe

Title: The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane
Author: Katherine Howe
Publication Date: June 2009
Genre: Adult Urban Fantasy
Age: Older Teens +
Pages: 384
Series: No
Publisher's website: http://hyperionbooks.com

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.

Doesn't that sound like the premise of a great book? I thought so too. I have to say, I was disappointed. Before I go into why I was disappointed, let me point out a few things I actually really liked.
The narrative: Chapters alternated between present day and past times. Deliverance Dane lived during the Salem Witch trials of 1692 and the story is pretty detailed. We are also treated to glimpses into the lives of some of her descendants. It totally fits with the story line and I really enjoyed the period setting.
I also really liked the characters - or rather, how they were written. I have some issues with our MC Connie but more on that in a minute. What I did enjoy were the supporting characters - including some, such as Deliverance Dane and Connie's grandmother, who are long dead and gone but still play an integral role in the overall story.

OK...on to my disappointment.

First off, the story itself is very very predictable. There really isn't much suspense but there is the illusion of suspense. For instance - at one point, Connie is researching for Deliverance's Physick book - trying to trace it through history and find out where it is today. She finds something that ultimately leads her to the book. We discover this something along with her and as soon as she finds it - you know. You know where the book is. BUT Connie doesn't seem to know where the book is - even though she read the same thing we did. She has a revelation many chapters later. A big moment for her - a frustrating reading experience for me.
Another thing - the bad guy? I was pretty sure the author wanted us to know he was a bad guy right from the start. I didn't think it's suppose to be a secret but again - the truth is revealed in a climatic scene that left me very unfulfilled.

Something that bothered me on a more personal level was Connie's reactions, assumptions, bigotry and downright ignorance involving modern day witchcraft, or Wicca. I know, she's not real. She's not a real person with actual ideas and thoughts and I'm not saying Katherine Howe believes the things Connie does. BUT here is my issue. Connie is an highly educated, PhD candidate, who is a "Historian of American Colonial Life", who must be able to "illustrate long-dead social, religious, and economic systems down to the slightest detail". She's smart, very smart. And she goes to Harvard, lives in New England and grew up in Concord Mass - just 40 minutes from Salem. AND! She not only has no idea how modern paganism or Wicca operates but she has absolutely no tolerance for modern day pagans practicing their craft in Salem.
It just didn't fit for me. She showed a real disdain for modern pagans - and frankly - it bothered me. I wasn't really digging her from the get go and this just clinched it for me.

One last pet peeve. Modern day? Is 1991. I don't know why (other then fodder for a passing remark on how big and silly cell phones are). It annoyed me. I know it doesn't make any sense, but it did. There really wasn't any reason to have a date set for 'modern day' so again - annoyance.

I know I'm being pretty harsh but it's only because I was soooooo looking forward to reading this book! The premise is such an awesome one! A possible unknown Salem Witch who might have actually been a true cunning woman? Wow! The search for a mysterious magical spell book hidden away ages ago? Count me in! An ambitious story full of unexciting events, plot 'twists' that didn't make a lick of sense, and an ending I could have written myself after chapter 4? blaaaaa! No thank you.

I hate putting a price on a book - any book - good or bad, but I have to say - The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane is not worth it's $25.99 price tag in my opinion. Wait for the paperback or check it out of your library. I really hope Katherine Howe writes more. I really did enjoy her writing, even though I didn't enjoy the story. I would gladly pick up another one of her books.

Even though I was disappointed I do encourage others to read this book for themselves. I do this with every book I don't like. I especially like it when someone has totally different opinions then me about a particular book. So! If you do read this book - please let me know what you think! I would love to discuss it!

6 comments:

  1. Great honest review :)
    I have to check this one out. The premise is very different than anything I've read.

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  2. Thanks for such an in-depth review. This title's just been released here (under a different and much more boring name) and I was wondering whether to pick it up. I think I'll skip it for now, though I do like a historical mystery and the cover is so lovely and moody.

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  3. Congratulations you have won an award at my blog. :)

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  4. I've been wanting to read this one for awhile. Thanks for your honest review.

    P.S. I just found you over at Bookworming in the 21st Century! You've got a great blog.

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  5. Sadly, I've heard only bad things about this book. :-( And everyone that has bad things to say about it has different bad things to say. It's such a pity, though, because the concept really is great and the cover is so pretty/cool.

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  6. I remember this review now. Thanks again for giving me the link :)

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