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