For fans of:
The Salem Witch Trials
Black cats and crescent moons
Who better to be told a story about witchcraft than from someone who is a direct descendent of two women put on trial in the seventeenth century? Katherine Howe (author of Conversion, The House of Velvet and Glass, and others) is the author of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, a “shadow book” she finds in the summer of ‘91 in her grandmother’s abandoned house, which debuted at #2 on the New York Times Bestseller list.
The book itself is beautifully designed, from the front and inside covers to the font choice. Unlike some other books, Howe’s novel’s accurate design helps put the reader in the proper attitude. Set in Massachusetts during the height of the Salem Witch Trials, the story is told from dual perspectives in 1692 and 1991.
Connie, the protagonist, is a grad student and aspiring Harvard professor who knows a lot about Salem and witchcraft in general. When her mother, more in touch with the universe and reading auras than her own daughter’s life and emptions, leaves the mess of her mother’s (Connie’s grandmother) house to Connie to clean up, that’s when the story really begins. With rich and lavish descriptions of the house—the plants, the flowers, the herbs—Howe paints a wonderfully… ahem… magical picture.
A relationship with Sam, the town steeplejack, a nose-ringed, Doc Marten-wearing hipster with a knack for fixing things and a shared interest in Salem history, serves as a convenient alliance. Not only does he help stave off Connie’s loneliness, he has access to old town archives in the back of the church he works at.
The reader is right alongside Connie as she uncovers a secret name, a hidden key, old texts, manuscripts, and spell books, and will experience the same thrill as in a game of clue in which one must put two and two together. My biggest pet peeve is cheesy dialogue between Connie and her dog Arlo, in which she literally asks the dog questions, then pauses, as if expecting the mutt to answer her. Also, the character of Professor Manning Chilton felt like a caricature at times. But despite these few silly exchanges, it’s a good sign that a few lines of dialogue are the most I see wrong with this witchy tale.
Ultimately, the story is believable, down to the accurate dialogue in the flashbacks, and isn’t too difficult to read. Howe sets her scenes well—from the clothes, descriptions of the house, the outdoors, etcetera—weaving a mystical tale inspired by reality, which makes it all the more haunting.
Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman
The Witches of Eastwick by John Updike
The Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling
Happy reading 🙂