For some reason there's been an ongoing theme in the books I've read lately: the Salem witch trials. This time period is pretty fascinating to me even if it's a portion of our history that we don't really like to discuss. It wasn't us who killed all those people for supposed witchcraft. I'm going to stop that line of thought before it gets me on a tangent. Your welcome.
I wasn't sure what to expect when I started reading this book, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that it wasn't what I was expecting. Did that make any sense? Part of me thought it was going to be one of those books where they flip-flop between time periods and never really correlate the two stories. That type of story bugs me so bad. Seriously, what is the point of having two storylines if they don't correlate?
That being said, Katherine Howe's The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane may have a wordy title but at least the multiple storylines correlate. Yay, Katherine! Thank you for your intellectual insight into a devastating time in US history. Now, something I noticed was that when we first see Connie (the main character in the more modern storyline) she is basically on trial to be able to move on to work on her PhD. Butted right next to that chapter we find Deliverance Dane (the heroine during the Salem Witch trial storyline) is also on trial for witchcraft. This was an excellent move on Katherine Howe's part, starting it off right from the start to let the reader know that there were going to be ongoing similarities between the two women. Something great authors do is foreshadow without being too obvious and Howe did it beautifully.
The writing isn't drop-dead wonderful but it flows nicely and transitions well. Some of Howe's things that she does get old. For instance she continually does this, I guess you would call it, passive thing. I can only explain it by giving an example. Connie, our 1991 heroine, is sleeping and is awakened by a knock on a door and a man's voice. The man's voice belongs to Sam, who is the love interest and also someone we've already met, yet Howe makes it seem like it's going to be a stranger by the way Connie reacts. Howe does this little thing frequently, and maybe I'm just being nitpicky. Good news is: that's basically my only complaint about the novel!
Howe's characterization is awesome. She uses dialogue to her advantage. I liked that she didn't get too carried away with exposition or dialogue. It seemed like there was a nice balance. Connie is a likable character. Oh, just remember another complaint. Connie goes to Marblehead to try to sell her grandmother's ancient house. Does she do anything with it really? Nope. The whole book she seems to be lazing around. Ok. I'm done nitpicking. I guess it's one of those things where there's nothing obviously wrong so you just have to make something up.
Let's talk magic surrealism. There's a trick authors do (the good ones make it work to their advantage*) in which they make magical events seem like an every day occurrence. I'm not talking about Twilight in which vampires suddenly became an every day, casual reference. I'm talking about the unexplained, paranormal, magical, surreal stuff. Howe works her magical surrealism beautifully. Connie "accidentally" makes a practically dead plant come back to life with an old incantation. Connie has "daydreams" that are written as if she's seeing ghosts. These little visions become an every day occurrence to her.
I have to say this was an enticing read. It's been awhile since I've not been able to put down a book and actually got excited about the book. This one woke me up from a coma that I didn't even realize I was in. Thank you, Katherine Howe, for your "bedeviling" book.
Go out and read this one, quick, folks! You won't be sorry! I give it five out of five kidney beans.
*For examples of magical surrealism check out Jodi Picoult's Second Glance which was my first brush with magical surrealism. Also check out Ann Hoffman's Ice Queen.
Jake Taylor graduated from Brigham Young University-Idaho with a Bachelor of Arts degree in professional writing. He is the author of The Tales of the Unluckiest Lucky Girl series. He is also an avid reader, traveler, movie-watcher, and music lover. He currently serves in the US Navy and is stationed in San Diego, CA.