From the moment I started this book, I was pretty much set to love it. It's absolutely laden with early American history, has elements of fantasy, and the main character is a woman pursuing her PhD at Harvard. Also, there is a time-traveling dog.
Pretty much set.
I've read my fair share of Salem Witch Trials books, ranging from the novel to the non-fiction. While they all try to tell the story from a new angle, they all unfortunately will eventually sound the same. This is probably, aside from WWII, one of the most written-about periods of history there is.
Fortunately, Katherine Howe stepped up to the plate; she decided to tell the story from an ENTIRELY different perspective.
What if there had been a practicing witch in Salem in 1692?
Connie is a well-crafted heroine whom I appreciated immensly, mainly because of her get'r done attitude and her ability to flash out her Harvard ID and get into uber-special and dusty libraries where only the few may venture. Her many forays into her family's history, from the ornery Marblehead city record-keeper, to the back-roads of Harvard's Radcliffe library shelves, to a small, colorful Wiccan shop, to the historic First Church in Salem, where Connie makes an important discovery ;) kept me interested, and from the ease with which it was told I could tell that the author had made many journeys herself in pursuit of answers to her family's background. I wasn't surprised to discover that Howe descends from two of the accused "witches" of Salem, Elizabeth Howe and Elizabeth Proctor.
I also enjoyed Howe's thorough research into the history of "cunning women," and how she explained many away many of the modern myths surrounding our views of witchcraft, especially concerning the popular witch's hat and broomstick.
I was very impressed with how the actual execution of the women was handled. Howe doesn't shrink back from describing, in painful detail, the brutal way the lives of the accused were snatched away. I was definitely shaken up.
It may sound cliched, but I think it's fair to say that you haven't experienced the Salem Witch Trials until you've read this book.