Under Love’s Spell

Magic and medicine meet in a small New England town in this debut novel.


The Sparrow Sisters by Ellen Herrick

Published by William Morrow, 384 pages, $15

Publishing exec turned author Ellen Herrick divides her time between Cambridge and Cape Cod, an inspiration for the setting of this debut novel. It’s powered by the mystical magic of the Sparrow sisters—Sorrel, Nettie and Patience—who practice herbal healing in the tight-knit coastal town of Granite Point, where one of their ancestors was falsely accused of witchcraft. But the sisters’ earthy remedies are popular among the modern townsfolk—that is, until Dr. Henry Carlyle moves into town and their powerful plants collide uneasily with his Western medicine.

Before long, romance twines itself around those differences as Henry falls for the quirky Patience. Henry’s leg was wounded in a traumatic wartime attempt to save a young girl, but his condition mysteriously improves after he sleeps under Patience’s flower- and herb-filled quilt, lending credibility to her sorcery. Patience also forms a touching bond with Matty, a high-functioning autistic 10-year-old whose mother committed suicide. But when Matty suddenly dies, Patience’s potions, as well as Henry’s insufficiently monitored medical contributions, come under legal scrutiny.

Gradually, gently, Herrick’s dreamy prose pulls people with opposing philosophies toward each other. Buoyed by Henry’s love, Patience explores the subtle confusions that led to Matty’s death, navigating a tale full of exotic nature and surprising redemptions.

From Page 130: Patience had put a single drop of henbane in the bottom of the glass and slipped burdock root and comfrey into the lemon water she kept by her bed. Henry had drunk nearly the whole thing, as she knew he would. And, of course, she had touched him. Over and over she had stroked him, her fingers so light that in his sleep he hadn’t even stirred.
“Do you want me to believe you made it all better?”
“Believe what you want,” Patience said. “You are better.”

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