A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
Series: All Souls Trilogy
Genre: Fantasy, Romance, Fiction
Maturity Level: 4.5
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Deep in the stacks of Oxford’s Bodleian Library, young scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research. Descended from an old and distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery; so after a furtive glance and a few notes, she banishes the book to the stacks. But her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and a horde of daemons, witches, and vampires soon descends upon the library. Diana has stumbled upon a coveted treasure lost for centuries-and she is the only creature who can break its spell.
Debut novelist Deborah Harkness has crafted a mesmerizing and addictive read, equal parts history and magic, romance and suspense. Diana is a bold heroine who meets her equal in vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont, and gradually warms up to him as their alliance deepens into an intimacy that violates age-old taboos. This smart, sophisticated story harks back to the novels of Anne Rice, but it is as contemporary and sensual as the Twilight series-with an extra serving of historical realism.
The first hundred pages of “A Discovery of Witches” had me saying things like “the best book I’ve read this year,” and “FINALLY! A fantasy novel that isn’t in love with vampires!” I loved the beginning, which was mostly about Diana doing research in a library and wishing she wasn’t a witch. I know several people who love libraries and love scholarly research, so all the stuff about manuscripts and Oxford had me nearly drooling. I was fascinated with the idea of Diana being born with power, but choosing to live without it because she wanted her work (and life) to have meaning. She didn’t want everything in life handed to her just because she was a Bishop and just because she knew magic. Some things, Diana knows, aren’t worth anything unless you’ve put in the work to earn them. When Diana first met Matthew, the mysterious vampire, and she was frightened of him nearly to panic, I breathed a sigh of relief knowing there would be no wishy washy, lovey dovey, GOOD vampires in this book.
Matthew is, in fact, a vampire with a conscience. How wonderful. On the bright side, in fits of anger or protectiveness he does occasionally commit brutal murders, and while he only feeds on criminals or something, at least he feeds on people. So if the vampires were ruined at least it wasn’t completely. And it was slightly easier to buy into “good” vampires when the other creatures are depicted as being misunderstood, or at least overgeneralized, as well. Still, it did ruin my enjoyment of the book quite a bit.
Sadly, the longer the book went on, the more cliche it got. The romance between Diana and Matthew was exceedingly Twilight-esque, though rather unfortunately slightly more graphic. The “most powerful of her kind!” theme which had seemed at the beginning so easily avoidable became the main focus. Harkness started to follow the pacing theory that something bad must happen to her characters every 48 hours or so, or the book can’t go on. And, finally, A Discovery of Witches ended on the rebels-banding-together-against-the-evil-government-in-order-to-save-the-world note.
I so wanted to be in love with this book. I still very much enjoyed reading it, and will definitely continue on to the rest of the trilogy, but I am quite disappointed with the direction Harkness went. She should have stayed in the library.