What do you really know about witches? Not the ones roaming the streets on Halloween, but the ones who cast spells, heal ailments, conjure up brews and curse enemies. Probably very little more than the citizens of Salem, Massachusetts, knew back in the panic of 1692.
Deliverance Dane lived back then, during the so-called witch trials. And Connie Goodwin, 1991 Harvard graduate student, is studying that time in American history. After getting through her oral exams, she needs to find a subject for her doctoral thesis. But summer intervenes, as does her mother, Grace, and she ends up in the small town of Marblehead, Massachusetts, putting her grandmother’s ancient house in shape for sale. Twenty years have passed since Connie’s Granna died, and nothing much has been done to the crumbling old structure. The task falls to Connie. Grace is too busy reading auras or some other nonsense. Kicking herself for allowing her mom to talk her into it, Connie nevertheless drives down to the house on Milk Street to settle in for a few months of cleaning.
Vines and all manner of vegetation have kept the structure hidden from view. Connie blazes a path to the front door. Inside, mushrooms are growing and the garden is trying to take up residence in the moldy rooms. Granna’s place had been left pretty much the same as it was the day she died, with dusty old books on the shelves, dried herbs in the jars, and disintegrating papers in the desk. Happenstance brings Connie the intriguing name of Deliverance Dane. Curiosity carries her further, to birth and death records, church records, any central depository of historical documents that might shed light on who Deliverance Dane was. The enormity of what she has found slowly dawns on Connie, leaving her trembling with excitement and fear. And she soon starts to realize that she is not the only one seeking answers about Deliverance Dane.
While following a clue or two, Connie meets a young man named Sam, a steeplejack working on the restoration of one of the local churches. Without Sam, Connie may have had to abandon her quest, but he is full of encouragement. And full of distractions. She has always been a serious student, with no time for romance. But things are different that summer in Marblehead. They form a bond that becomes hard to break, which may just be the key to saving their lives.
Whether you believe in the supernatural or not, THE PHYSICK BOOK OF DELIVERANCE DANE will be tough to resist. Covering a time in our past that is hard to comprehend, author Katherine Howe has put a fresh spin on how to view it. Maybe we can get a better understanding of what motivated people to accuse women of witchcraft, and dispel the senseless fear that came along with it. Perhaps we can learn not to repeat our mistakes. For a certainty, we can have a lot of fun reading about it.
Part thriller, part haunted house mystery and part love story, with just a small measure of DA VINCI CODE–like action and suspense, this book will keep its readers spellbound from cover to cover. It’s more than intriguing; it’s positively captivating.
Reviewed by Kate Ayers on April 6, 2010