I've been trudging through The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe for the past week or so. It's actually a very easy read, I just didn't like it so it took me a bit of time to force myself to finish it. Curious? Read on.
Connie, a Harvard graduate student working on her doctoral dissertation, finds herself tasked with the massive undertaking of cleaning and readying her deceased grandmother's house so that it can be sold. It is here that she finds, tucked within a seventeenth-century Bible, a mysterious key and a scrap of paper bearing the name Deliverance Dane.
Connie discovers that Deliverance Dane was in fact a previously unknown Salem Witch and, what's more, she kept a physick book of spells that could prove invaluable as a primary source for her dissertation and change the way scholars ultimately view witchcraft. However, the clock is ticking and Connie soon realizes she's not the only one with an interest in the book.
This book seemed promising enough. New England setting, witches, history, a level headed grad student who must unravel a mystery.... Sounds safe, right? Truth be told, however, this book was incredibly disappointing.
For most of the book we follow Connie as she attempts to track down Deliverance Dane's physick book. She does this by combing public records and archives. She discovers Deliverance was a witch and, by looking at property ledgers and wills, she tracks the physick book only to discover it was right under her nose the entire time. Oh, how convenient and unsatisfying!
Intermittently we see flashbacks from the point of view of Deliverance and her ancestors. These are very tantalizing bits of the story but, ultimately, really add nothing to the plot as Connie is obviously not privy to any of this knowledge.
Also, I assume I'm to believe Connie is your average grad student. They must be setting the bar pretty low because this girl sure is thick. The amount of time it takes her to put two and two together is alarming. I'm not willing to believe it can written off as a convenient character trait – for instance her initial unwillingness to believe in anything that challenges her narrow university way of thinking. I'm not an unusually intelligent reader, so the only remaining possibility is that Howe is simply a poor writer.
This book really just putters along a very narrow and uninspired path. Every twist and turn is easily predicted, nothing really happens, the big tense conclusion ends with a “gotcha!” moment and Connie goes on to write a great dissertation and lives happily ever after. The end. Boring.
There's a number of points in the book that the author seems to fixate on, only to push them off to the side while the reader realizes they really weren't important elements after all. This, to me, is frustrating and shows poor planning. Why treat it as an important piece of the puzzle if it ultimately doesn't fit? Why not work it in? Why not replace it with a substitute or at least make the realization that the object is meaningless at least play back into the plot somehow? I feel Howe tried. I really do. She attempts to squeeze some of these bits back in but it's awkward, forced.
If you want to read this one I won't stop you. However, I would certainly never go out of my way to recommend this to anyone. It's contrived, boring, unimaginative and very bland.
Writing Quality: Good, heavily descriptive.
Lasting Impact: Forgettable.
Rating: ★★★✰✰ 3/5
Rating: ★★★✰✰ 3/5
What do you think? Do you agree? Disagree? Sound off below!