Howe (The Appearance of Annie van Sinderen, 2015, etc.) returns with a creepy, witchy sequel to The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane (2009).
Though her former professor and adviser remains in a mental hospital, Connie Goodwin has turned her continued fascination with witchcraft in early America into a tenure-track professorship. She’s working hard to finish her book, serving as a mentor to graduate students, and living with Sam Hartley, her steeplejack beau. Her mother, Grace, continues to inspire exasperated affection; when Connie goes to visit her, Grace insists on tying an eagle stone around her wrist as a symbol of maternal protection—the first clue that Connie is pregnant. Grace also tells Connie she should break up with Sam, pointing out that generations of women in their family have lost their husbands young, to sudden deaths. As Connie begins to research this phenomena, she discovers a single exception—Temperance Hobbs, an 18th-century ancestor whose portrait sits above Grace’s fireplace and whose husband lived to be over 100. When Connie discovers a hidden box behind the portrait, it’s clear that there might be a way to save Sam—but the consequences to the natural world may be greater than they can afford to pay. The story cuts back and forth between Connie's life in 2000 and the women engaged in “weather work” in the early Colonial period, and it takes a long time to build to a climax. Howe clearly has enjoyed doing her research; Connie’s role as academic allows her to educate us about the history of witchcraft in America without too much lecturing. The characters are likable, but the mood and plot are slow to build.
Until the spooky magic begins, too close to the end, the book casts a rather lukewarm spell.