Thursday, May 10, 2012

Bookish Thoughts: A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
Viking Adult, 2011
Fiction; 592 pgs

Oh my gosh!  I got so consumed by my reading I forgot I needed to sit down and share my thoughts on Deborah Harkness's A Discovery of Witches.  How does that happen?!  Okay.  Don't answer that.  We all know how that can happen . . .

From the Publisher:
When historian Diana Bishop opens a bewitched alchemical manuscript in Oxford’s Bodleian Library it represents an unwelcome intrusion of magic into her carefully ordinary life. Though descended from a long line of witches, she is determined to remain untouched by her family’s legacy. She banishes the manuscript to the stacks, but Diana finds it impossible to hold the world of magic at bay any longer.
For witches are not the only otherworldly creatures living alongside humans. There are also creative, destructive daemons and long-lived vampires who become interested in the witch’s discovery. They believe that the manuscript contains important clues about the past and the future, and want to know how Diana Bishop has been able to get her hands on the elusive volume.

Chief among the creatures who gather around Diana is vampire Matthew Clairmont, a geneticist with a passion for Darwin. Together, Diana and Matthew embark on a journey to understand the manuscript’s secrets. But the relationship that develops between the ages-old vampire and the spellbound witch threatens to unravel the fragile peace that has long existed between creatures and humans—and will certainly transform Diana’s world as well.
I remember when A Discovery of Witches first came out. I knew I had to read it. It was rather thick though and so I hesitated. Not because I was daunted by reading all those pages--but rather I was worried about hefting such a big book everywhere. I could wait for the paperback, I figured. I ended up buying the book on my Nook, however, which worked just as well.

I love stories about witches. I've always been fascinated by magic and the tie witches often have to the earth. Vampires are fine, but witches . . . I find tales about them irresistible. This is why A Discovery of Witches caught my eye initially.

I've often heard that those who loved The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova also loved A Discovery of Witches. And those who didn't like the one didn't like this one either. I also heard Harkness's novel described as the adult Twilight, something I took with a grain of salt. I suppose one could find some similarities--but then, I can find similarities between any two books if I look hard enough. Anyway, I am one of those who loved The Historian--yes, every word--and so it was with great anticipation and some hesitation that I read A Discovery of Witches.

It's not The Historian. Let me just get that out of the way. However, I really enjoyed A Discovery of Witches on many levels. I liked the characters and the world building--the author's use of both established ideas as well as her own imagination. And I especially loved the way the author eased into the story, taking her time as she introduced me to her characters and world. Then BAM! From leisurely Cambridge life to total immersion into the volatile and dangerous life of vampires, daemons and witches. It could have been like reading two separate books, but it wasn't. I enjoyed every minute of it, although I admit I liked the first half best.

My eyes did glaze over a bit when the characters spent too long on Darwin and the various theories about origin. It was interesting to be sure, but I would rather read about history than science, to be honest. However, whenever the history of science (alchemy in particular) came up, I was quite interested. I did like the other historical references, although I was reminded of Forrest Gump when Matthew Clairmont would recount his own history--you know, how Forrest seemed to be at just about every major event in U.S. history during his lifetime. I am making fun, I know, but I really did enjoy even that aspect of the novel quite a bit.

I am quite taken with the world Harkness has created and I enjoyed my time spent with Diana and Matthew. I came to really like both of them--and it wasn't hard to do. Diana is fiercely independent, or maybe it seems so next to Matthew's old school ways. The two have good chemistry and play off each other well. I know some think Diana gives in to Matthew all too often, but I don't agree. Harkness explains the nature of vampires in her world quite well--and Matthew himself reminds us more than once of his desire need to control and how easily he can lose control if tested--his need is almost visceral. Diana tests his control over and over.

I also liked the side characters and am so glad the author took time to weave many of their histories into the novel as well. A couple of my particular favorites were Ysabeau, Matthew's mother, and his son Marcus. I was also quite taken by Hamish and can't wait to learn more about him in future books--at least I hope Harkness will take us there.

A Discovery of Witches is the first book in a trilogy and I am anxious to read the next book Shadow of Night, which is due out this summer.

 You can learn more about Deborah Harkness and her book on the author's website.

Source: I personally purchased an e-copy of this book.

© 2012, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved. If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

32 comments:

  1. I've had a copy of this book on my shelf for some time. It's probably a good time to think about reading it since #2 is almost here. Thanks for your reactions, Wendy.

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    1. Kay - I can't wait to dive into the second book. I requested a copy through Net Galley and now just have to find time to read it. Definitely soon!

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  2. My sister loved this book too but I'm just not sure it's for me.

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    1. I am glad your sister enjoyed this one, Kathy. Knowing your tastes, you probably wouldn't like this one.

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  3. This was one of my favorites of last year, and I can't say enough good things about it. I am anxiously awaiting the day the sequel goes on sale, because she left it on such a cliffhanger!! I loved your review and your evident enthusiasm. I am always so happy when someone loves this book!

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    1. Heather - Yes, that ending sure left a lot open! I am looking forward to reading Harkness's upcoming book. I really liked the world the author created. I felt like I was right there with the characters.

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  4. I am really looking forward to the sequel!

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  5. I have been on the fence about this book, had it home from the library but did not even open the cover. With your comments about The Historian (I LOVED it), I am going to bring this book home and open it up!

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    1. 'Nise - You definitely should give it a try. I don't think it's quite as good as The Historian, but it is good just the same.

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  6. ah I still want to read this, but I haven't had the chance yet. It's nice to see you enjoyed it, even if some parts were a bit dull!

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    1. Amy - I hope you get a chance to read it at some point. It was a fun read.

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  7. I really want to read this and even have it on my Kindle. I've heard so many good things about it and would love to fit it in before the next one is out. I'm glad you enjoyed it so much!

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    1. Darlene - E-readers are great for reading the bigger books, aren't they? I hope you enjoy this one when you get to it. At least this way, you won't have to wait long before moving on to the next book. Cliff hanger endings can be such torture when you have to wait a long time before finding out what happens next.

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  8. I loved this one, too! I remember especially loving the house where she grew up - it was a character all by itself. I need to do a reread to get ready for book two, I think.

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    1. Carrie - That house was really interesting. You are right--it is a character all on its own. The stories it could tell . . .

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  9. Diana and Matthew's dynamic did bother me a bit, but I do like that Harkness approaches that topic with some rationale. I'll be interested to see how Diana "develops" in the next book.

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    1. Andi - Yes, it will be interesting to see how she grows as a character in the next book. Hopefully the second and third books will be as fun as this first one was.

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  10. I have had a copy of this one for some time....should make it a point to read it!!

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    1. Staci - If I didn't have the second book waiting in the wings to read, I probably wouldn't have gotten to this one as yet. So many books to read . . . I hope you enjoy it when you do get to it!

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    1. Jenclair - I am so glad I read it! I am glad you liked it too. :-)

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  12. I liked it but the ending kinda dragged for me.

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    1. Mandy - It'll be interesting to see where the second book takes us.

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  13. I keep hearing about this book everywhere, it seems! I really must pick it up at some point. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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    1. Melissa - It does seem to be making a reappearance on the blogs. Maybe because the sequel is set to be released soon. I hope you enjoy it if you do decide to read it!

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  14. Hmm... so I really did NOT like The Historian, often for those eye-glazing passages on the history of the region and Dracula that I didn't find particularly interesting. So if this book has even MORE of those types of passages...

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    1. Aarti - Haha! The Historian seems to be one of those books that readers either love or hate. A Discovery of Witches may not be for you--although, it's different enough from The Historian tat you might. It's hard to say. The pacing is slower during the first half of A Discovery of Witches, but I felt it picked up during the second half to some degree (still, I liked the first half best). You may like it. Most readers I come across who liked one, liked the other and those who didn't like the one, didn't like the other.

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  15. I have had this on my radar screen for awhile. I am also fascinated by witches and feel sure I will enjoy this one when I get around to reading it. I'm happy to know a second book is coming soon too!

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  16. I have this one on my shelves, but the size has kept me from starting it. And that was before I knew it was part of a trilogy!!! I may have to wait til Gage starts preschool :(

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    1. Stacy - On the plus side, you likely won't have to wait to read each book because they'll all be out by the time you get to them. :-) It's so hard to find time to read with such a young one, isn't it? Of course, if you add in the children's books we read and how many times we read each one, our reading numbers would probably be off the charts. LOL

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