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The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

by Katherine Howe


After passing her Ph.D. qualifying examination, Connie Goodwin looks forward to a summer spent amongst dusty books, researching her dissertation. However, her mother has other plans for her, and Connie is thrust into her dead grandmother’s crumbling Marblehead home with the task of making it habitable once more – quite a challenge when one has no electricity or even a phone line. But the house soon proves to be quite lucky for Connie; she discovers a mysterious key hidden in an old book, and an unusual name: Deliverance Dane. With the encouragement of her professors she decides to pursue this mysterious woman and find out why Deliverance’s key ended up in her grandmother’s house, and the fate of a curious book that may contain the tincture, rituals and recipes of a real Salem witch.


The book actually flashes through the centuries in a double narrative, switching between Deliverance Dane and her descendents and Connie’s present-day research. The stories don’t mesh particularly well; I think the book would have been much stronger if Howe had elected to stick to just one time period. I found the historical periods to be stronger in terms of drama and a sense of atmosphere, but more time was given to Connie and her research.


Unfortunately, the main characters have a huge problem with information dumping. Some of it makes sense in the scene; Connie regurgitates entire textbooks for her Ph. D. exam. It may not be exciting, but in the context it’s not so strange.  But in casual conversations with her mother, one of them will spend paragraphs talking about the ‘little ice age’ that affected New England at the end of the 17th century. It reads like sections of Wikipedia were lifted and paraphrased to fill up space. 


Connie is also friggin’ DUMB. Howe lays clues about the fate of Deliverance’s book pretty thickly – I mean, she practically posts neon signs pointing to the thing – and Connie completely misses them. The villain also becomes painfully obvious quite early in the book – I think the only cliché he missed was twirling his moustache on his finger - but Connie doesn’t pick up on his role, either. She’s too busy mooning over sexy, gorgeous Sam, the hunky steeplejack who *gasp* is actually interested in her OMG ROMANCE!!! There’s a lot of focus on plot, and getting everybody moved along from A to B to C, but the development of characters’ histories was pretty weak.


As The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane chugs along down Predictable Plot Lane to the Obvious Outcome, the book takes a sudden swerve and goes spinning off into Fantasyland. It was almost as if the author realized that her story was getting a little predictable, maybe a little dull…so let’s toss some MAGIC in! Thinking back, the author had placed some clues that the book was planning to go in that direction…but shooting bolts of blue light from fingertips still seemed awfully out of place.


According to a note on the back of my review copy, this book was originally conceived as a NaNoWriMo project. There’s nothing wrong with that; I admire anyone who can finish the National Novel Writing Month challenge each November! (I tried a few years ago and failed miserably.) But I have also come to blame the hurried creation a NaNoWriMo project encourages for this book’s uneven plot and the unceremonious plopping of informational factoids. 


Sigh. I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I found the book entertaining. I was traveling in the Boston area as I read this, and it was fun to match the visuals of the world around me to the descriptions in the book. Elizabeth Howe has a lot of fun with words, and I think that as she continues to write she will mature into a fine storyteller.  


            To read more about The Physic Book of Deliverance Dane, but it or add it to your wishlist, click here.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 13th, 2009 08:39 pm (UTC)
Awww. The premise had me—even if I'm unwary of dual-timeline stories because one half often overpower or drags. It seemed a bit hokey but amusing and interesting, and that's something. But it looks like the quality of the book isn't quite enough to move past hokey. What a pity.

Thank you for your review!
Jun. 13th, 2009 09:10 pm (UTC)
To be fair, the book seems to be gathering quite a few positive reviews on Librarything, so I might just be a fussy old broad :-p It's like the author needed an editor to go through the draft with her, and that never happened; it just went straight from NaNoWriMo to published copy.
Jun. 13th, 2009 09:16 pm (UTC)
No worries. I'm a picky reader like woah, so I expect I'd join you on the fussy old broad side of the fence. ^_^ I can enjoy some, er, cheap and fun literature, but I'm a stickler for quality. Not that each book has to be award-worthy, but do require the quality is at least decent enough that it doesn't distract me from the premise and would-be plot.

This one sounds like it wouldn't quite pass that bar. Sad, because now I'm hankering for fluffy Northeastern witches. Perhaps I should pick up some Hoffman. ^^
Jun. 14th, 2009 12:35 am (UTC)
The synopsis took me in as well. If I had read that on the back of the book in the store, or the library, I would've considered reading it. I get the feeling I might've been frustrated by the time I finished it though.

For some reason, this - "She’s too busy mooning over sexy, gorgeous Sam, the hunky steeplejack who *gasp* is actually interested in her OMG ROMANCE!!!" - really makes me want to stay away from the book. xD;
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )


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