One of my favorite things to do in life is to browse bookstores. Instead of being overwhelmed by the millions of titles on the shelves, I feel invigorated by the promise of so many great things to read. I love the elaborate courtship involved in choosing a book to read, beginning with being lured in by an interesting book cover before being sold by a well-written summary.
I caressed the cover of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane many times before I finally committed to it.The font, the ripped parchment, and the intricate key all seemed interesting, but every time, I ended up putting it back down, turned off by Matthew Pearl’s description of the novel as a “gripping supernatural puzzler.”
When I finally sat down to read The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane I was immediately hooked. The novel weaves the story of Connie, a Harvard PhD candidate in colonial history, with those of a long line of women descended from Deliverance Dane, a fictional late 1600s healer convicted during the Salem Witch trials. Most of the novel’s characters are strong, independent women with distinct and well-drawn personalities. The novel is suspenseful from the start, making it a thrilling page turner.
The present day chapters are full of intrigue, danger, and romance once Connie moves into her grandmother’s abandoned home and discovers a mysterious slip of paper hidden in a key in an old family bible. She quickly proves that historians are really detectives when she sets off to discover the secrets of the carefully hidden slip of paper. The historical chapters plunge the reader deep into the dialect and frame of mind of the period, full of dangerous combination of superstition, deep religious faith and strict conservatism. I really enjoyed learning about the Witches of Salem and the epidemic of fear that led to the deaths of so many women.
The only part of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane was the magic itself. The book was so grounded in history and the research process that when it asked me to suspend disbelief and accept the presence of magical forces, I struggled. At the end, I also felt like there were loose ends connected to the magical storyline like the role of Connie’s mother and the cause of the untimely demise of the men in the witches lives.
All in all, however, I really enjoyed the Physick Book of Deliverance Dane. It was a thrilling and quick read that brought to life this period in American history that I knew little about. It also gave me the pleasure of strong female leads, something I still see too seldom. If you’re looking for a good book to pack for your spring break trip, this is definitely a good one to throw into the suitcase.