Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Psysick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe - 384 pgs


Book CoverConnie Goodwin has just been accepted as a candidate for the Ph.D. Program at Harvard when her new-age mother requests that she organize and spruce up her late grandmother's overgrown and crumbling home to prepare it for sale. Although Connie is struggling with her adviser, Manning Chilton, for a topic for her dissertation, she agrees to reside in the old house and do her best to get it under control. As Connie struggles with cleaning the sprawling and filthy house, strange things begin to happen. From her intense headaches and visions to the jolt of electricity that seems to rip a book out of her hand, Connie begins to wonder just what secrets her grandmother's house holds. When she discovers the name Deliverance Dane hidden in a key in an old Bible on her grandmother's shelf, she is set on a course of action that will forever change her life. She discovers that Deliverance Dane was one of the original women executed for witchcraft in the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, and that she may have left behind a hidden spell book. Connie decides to take this information to Professor Manning as the topic for her dissertation. But information on Deliverance and her book is sparse and hard to come by, which seems to infuriate the Professor and puts Connie into fits of the doldrums. While looking for clues to the mysteries of Deliverance's life, Connie meets Sam, a local steeplejack working on one of the churches in town. Sam and Connie hit it off immediately and begin to see each other with the excuse that he will help her with her research, and soon they become a couple. But strange occurrences continue to haunt Connie and grow more pronounced as her search for the book intensifies. Soon she will realize that all that she holds dear is in danger, including Sam, and that there are people out there whose motivations are not what they seem. Connie will begin to discover new truths about herself and the life that she thought she knew, and maybe, if she is lucky, will unlock the secrets of the Psysick Book of Deliverance Dane. Woven in between the chapters of Connie's story is the story of Deliverance Dane herself; a story of accusations, suspicion and confrontation. This book straddles the unknown and asks the question: What if the suspicions of witchcraft in Salem weren't suspicions, but plain fact?

This book was a really interesting ride. From the outset, the story worked in a way that induced plenty of suspense and anticipation in the reader. The book began with a section set in the past where Deliverance was accused of terrible crimes, and flashed forward to the present day where Connie was also in the hot seat while she was being interviewed for her candidacy. I found that the book did that a lot. The author had a way of mirroring the atmosphere between the past and present sections in a way that gave the reader an urgent sense of immediacy, and the result was not only cohesion but palpable suspense in the storyline.

Another thing I liked about the book was the attention to detail in the writing. It seemed that nothing was left to chance and that every plot element and character was fully developed. Even the backstory was done well. It was not shoddily thrown into the plot, but rather placed there just when the reader may have been wondering about what could have gone before. The writing style was not overly formal, instead being more direct and informative, even in dealing with all the sticky elements of academia. I thought that the author really had a broad base in her writing technique, shifting between the speech vagaries of the past, the authoritativeness of the scholarly work that so consumed Connie, the historical atmosphere that was present in the tale of Deliverance, and the modern story of treachery and love in the main body. The author balanced it all very well, resulting in a smoothly flowing narrative.

Overall, I would have to say that some of the plot points in the book were a bit predictable, and although I wasn't overly focused on that aspect of the book, I did notice it. Sections of the book seemed to run on formula alone, which made me more fond of the historical plot line. In addition, I felt that some of the character creation was a little clichéd. At times I felt that Professor Chilton's character was too much of a stereotype and overly predictable. In my opinion, his character would have been more believable had he stayed a bit more vague and shadowy, rather than being so ostentatious and prominent. At times I sighed with frustration when he showed up on the page, because I just knew he was going to continue with his pushing and belittling.

Sam was one of the more appealing characters in the book. He was very much against the stereotype, which I found refreshing, and he was also the kind of character whose easygoing nature makes a reader identify with him and feel comfortable with him immediately. I liked the Sam/Connie relationship a lot, and thought it added a little bit of extra flavor to the narrative. Although I would have liked to have seen this angle focused on a bit more, it was nice to see their relationship grow beyond the parameters of friendship.

Although I enjoyed nearly all aspects of this book, I'd have to say that the historical sections on Deliverance were my absolute favorite scenes. I loved the peek into the time period, and thought that as a woman, she embodied a lot of really interesting qualities. She was stern yet yielding, she was honorable yet not a pushover; there are so many things I could say about her, but in the end it all comes down to the fact that her character was created perfectly. I also liked that the author really did her homework with this story. You could tell that she had researched extensively, not only the time period but the unfamiliar aspects of the occult, and I think that all the research really magnified the scope of the book.

I thought this was an interesting read that firmly held my attention and showed great imagination. I would have to say, if one were making comparisons, that this book is kind of a hybrid between The Secret History and The Historian, albeit with witches instead of vampires. If you enjoyed either of these books or have a love of academia, historical fiction, or thrillers and suspense novels, this would definitely be the book for you. I wouldn't exactly call this a great beach read because it's not really light and fluffy, but it would be excellent for anyone who wants an engaging book to crawl under the covers with.

11 comments:

Meghan said...

I'm glad you liked this one! I enjoyed The Historian and obviously I like academics and historical fiction, so I am quite glad that this book is sitting near the top of my review pile. =)

Marie Burton said...

I just reviewed this one also.. yours was quite thorough.. :) I enjoyed the book very much.
My review is here at The Burton Review.

Melissa - Shhh I'm Reading said...

Glad to hear you enjoyed this one. I've got it in my stacks and hope to get to it soon.

Dar said...

Nice review. I'm glad to see you liked it as I have it in my tbr pile too.

Diane said...

This one is in my review stacks too. It looks good. Great review.

Steph said...

I am intrigued! I haven't read The Secret History (but I do own it!), but I did read The Historian... which I liked for the first 250 pages, and thought it got horrifically boring as I got bogged down in all of the, well, history! I felt the pacing really suffered in the latter part of the book, and the author really needed to edit some of the info so that it didn't come across like someone's overly researched dissertation. But it sounds like this book has a better balance, and the historical details are better integrated into the story... Would you say that's true?

Marie said...

Definitely sounds like my cup of tea. I have it sitting around for a rainy day- should be good! Great review.

Zibilee said...

Steph,
I definitely think that the historical aspects of the novel were really well integrated. Though it does jump back and forth between the two time lines, there is a lot of really relevant information between the two sections that sort of hinges off of each other. And I totally hear what you are saying about the Historian, I found the book to be a little more dry than I would have liked because of an overabundance of academia.

Aarti said...

Great review! I think we had similar reactions to the stereotypical characters and some of the plotting. Not surprising as I think your taste in books is fabulous :-)

Lenore said...

Great review - I've got this coming up!

Nymeth said...

I like this premise a lot! It sounds like a really captivating and atmospheric book. I really enjoyed The Historian and have The Secret History here to read. Sounds like I should add this to the pile.

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