My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Let me start by saying I’m a sucker for Salem. Any book that has the witch trials as a part of it is going to earn an extra bit in my rating, just because it’s something I’m interested in. (Just as any book that is primarily a romance will score lower for me–I don’t like the genre.) Why do I like Salem? A part of it has to do with the fact that I’m related to a witch. Or an accused witch, at least. Giles Corey refused to enter a plea when he was accused. Since according to law at the time, he couldn’t be tried until a plea was entered, he was tortured until he would. The torture? They laid him down in a field, placed a wooden board on him, and stacked heavy rocks on it until he broke down. Oh yeah–and they only let him eat rotten bread and stagnant water. He never broke down, though. His last words? ‘More weight.’ Yeah. I have cool ancestors.
Anyway, so with that disclaimer, on to the review. The book seesaws between the present day and Salem witch trial times. Much of it rests on a developing mystery, so I don’t want to really get into the plot to much. If you’re looking for summary, look elsewhere. I enjoyed the book for the most part. I think without my Salem-leanings, I’d give it three stars. With them, I raised it to four (out of five). What worked for me? The historical accuracy of the novel. Howe makes a lot of effort to portray things as realistically as possible. The characters were well done, and the descriptions clear and vivid. I particularly enjoyed how well minor characters were pulled off, each of them seeming to be real people, not just parts brought in to fulfill a role the author needed filled. That’s a tricky line to walk without letting minor characters take over the book, and Howe walks it well.
What didn’t work? The ending fell apart for me some. A book that rests as much in mystery as this one does will succeed or fail primarily based on the resolution of that mystery. The resolution left me with a meh feeling, which was disappointing. It wasn’t bad, per se–but it certainly wasn’t mind-blowing. Some of the characterizations at the end fell apart, as well.
(Pet peeve of the book? Howe’s portrayal of librarians. The woman seems to have had her share of bad run ins with my profession, and she doesn’t paint us in too bright a light. We’re not all stuffy self-centered shh’ers, Ms. Howe!)
In any case, if you like mysteries, historical novels, witches or grad students (the main character is a history doctoral student), this will be a good read for you.