In 1991, Connie Goodwin is a grad student about to take her qualifying orals for her PhD candidature. She passes the orals and while searching for her thesis topic she stumbles on a reference to a hundred years old ‘physicks’ book. Connie is encouraged by her mentor and thesis advisor, Professor Chilton, to look for the book and its connection to the Salem witchcraft trials of 1692. At the same time, Connie’s mother asks her to close down and sell her grandmother’s neglected house in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Connie begins to feel pressure from both Chilton and her mother, and finds herself caught between two worlds as she gradually realizes that the house and the trials may be connected.
There are two aspects of this book that stand out - the story and the writing. One I enjoyed and the other I did not. The story had action, romance, history and some paranormal activity. These are all things I enjoy in a novel and so the plot had all the essential ingredients of a very fun read.
The writing was something else entirely. It’s possible that the book was intended for a younger audience, and therefore what I think of it the writing doesn’t apply, but I’m not completely convinced. I thought it comparable to the Da Vinci Code (ok, maybe not quite that bad) and found it difficult to ignore the writing and stay involved in the story. There were (for my taste) too many adjectives used to describe actions when simple words would’ve sufficed. From page 37 (keep in mind this review is from an advance reading copy):
”Connie!” Liz puffed. “I think that we might have found the house!”
“Yeah! Arlo spotted the gate,” she grunted, hauling aside another armful of undergrowth.”
They grunted, puffed, spotted and hauled in only two lines and managed to exclaim three times as well. My disappointment with the writing was probably more acute because I had been looking forward to reading this book.
That said, the story was enjoyable enough for me to give Katherine Howe’s next novel (will there be one?) a shot. Perhaps her writing will mature; I hope so – I hate it when a great story is brought down by bad writing.