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4.5 Stars: A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

Remember that awesome book Discovery of Witches that everyone was talking about? Well my mom is here to tell you what she thought!

This recommendation from the third bookish member of our family kept me turning pages and finding excuses to find time to read “just a few pages more” for a couple of days. I finally threw caution to the wind and just read every available minute while on a road trip to attend my doctoral commencement.  While there were a few points that keep me from awarding it 5 full stars, its richness and depth are remarkable, especially for the first novel from Deborah Harkness.  If she writes about history as eloquently as she spins this tale of suspense and magic, it would make for very interesting reading indeed.

4.5 Stars: A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness (All Souls Trilogy #1)
Published by Viking Penguin on 2011
Genres: Adult, Fantasy, Urban Fantasy
Page Length: 579 pages
How I got my copy: Purchased
Amazon - Book Depository - Goodreads
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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.

4.5 Stars

Strengths:

  • The alternate world of A Discovery of Witches has some refreshing features. The majority of witches are born with limited, inherited abilities that they must learn to control and employ.  The magical system is varied – making use of elemental abilities, potions, and spell crafting.  Such as system promises to add complexity and color to future books set in this world.
  • There are many strong women in A Discovery of Witches – one of the things I look for early in a book or a series.  And the elder generation is credited with sense, power, and even – at times – wisdom and cunning.
  • Most of the time, I love the main character, Diana Bishop.  As an academic, I appreciate her joys and frustrations in research and in being attached to a particular college and field of study.  There are few novels that show what academic life is like at its best.  It was really refreshing to have a protagonist with whom to identify (most of the time).
  • Balance is maintained between good and evil in A Discovery of Witches.  Neither seems to have the upper hand naturally.  Book one sets us up for a long series of conflicts that are just as much cerebral as physical.
  • The detail level is just right.  There is a lot of history and careful description, but it never becomes tedious.  If Dr. Harkness teaches, her students must love her lectures.

Weaknesses:

  •  The romance moved too quickly to be credible, which is a common problem in urban fantasy.  I found myself unable to believe that otherwise intelligent and sensible woman would rapidly fall in love with someone who at first frightened her and whose moral compass doesn’t exactly point north.  Not only does she fall in love, but she also puts everyone who she cared about in jeopardy by breaking rules and ignoring the advice of her aunts – who she seemingly respects.  She is a woman of intellect who seems to throw it all out mid-way through the book, acting like a teenager rather than a well-respected historian.
  • Vampires have too few weaknesses.  Admittedly, the whole allergy to sunlight thing is a challenge that is hard to write around, but we skirt seriously into Twilight territory by leaving these creatures with virtually no vulnerabilities.

Summary:

A Discovery of Witches is a book that seems to polarize readers.  You either love it or hate it, and I can understand both points of view.  If the historical detail were not so lovingly rendered – or the characters not so very charming – it would be easy to lump this book in with other young adult vampire fantasy and ignore it.  But I can forgive Diana for falling in love with Matthew – he has a lot of experience in winning people over.  I just hope she finds her spine again in the next book.

4.5 Stars

-Barb

 A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

© 2013 – 2015, Barbara. All rights reserved.

Comments

  1. I absolutely LOVE this book and Shadow of Night. I agree that it is great to read a book with a heroine that is an extremely bright academic. I did not think that Matthew and Diana fell in love too quickly because their love is not of just any two people coming together. They were meant for one another and bringing a certain destiny to fruition. I was also fine with how Matthew is. He is over the top super stalker protective of Diana. That is plenty enough flaws in my book. His weakness is Diana and that too is plenty to me.

    I am cannot wait for the third and final book (The Book of Life) to be released. It was great reading your review!

  2. Great review! I agree with flipthatpage that the format is very handy. I also like the sound of the magic system, especially the amount of variety. It seems like that would keep things interesting :)

  3. Jenn @ A Glo-Worm Reads says:

    Ugh, I really, really, really NEED to get around to reading this book. I’ve actually owned it for over a year now and still haven’t read it. I have a friend who also enjoyed it a lot, so it must be a book I’ll like..lol Hmm, maybe I’ll have to bump it further up the reading list!

  4. This is one of those books that *I* can’t believe I haven’t read yet! I own a copy though now so I guess that means I’m one step closer! Your mom’s review (how awesome is that btw?!) just gave me another little push in that direction…everything described her sounds like something I’d love – though maybe not so much the ‘insta-love’ hehe

    • Witches! Witches! How could you avoid it??? Yes, one step closer if it’s on the shelf ;-)

      Hehe, yes, my book reviewing family is pretty rocking I have to admit!

  5. I absolutely adore this series. I have had the good fortune to hear Dr. Harkness speak in person and she is 100% captivating – she has lucky students indeed! I recommend this book on a regular basis because I believe it has the ability to appeal to a wide range of readers – romance, history, paranormal, but also those interested in mythology or science. Patient readers will find that every name, location and detail has some meaning or historical significance behind it. Once you begin the research, your estimation of Deb is sure to increase. I have been following the news that this book has been optioned by Warner Brothers and will be make it to the big screen. Readers might be interested in seeing the campaign to have Richard Armitage cast as Matthew Clairmont. You can read about it here: http://www.armitage4clairmont or http://www.facebook.com/armitage4clairmont

  6. I must confess … this book was a DNF for me! I made it with only 100 pages to go too!!! I don’t know it just wasn’t my thing. Though I should try again!!

    • Completely understandable ;-) I hear the next book is even better though, so it might be worth finishing and giving the next one a go :D

  7. I REALLY need to get round to reading this – it’s been on my TBR for almost a year now.

    It does look good, but a) I didn’t realise it had vampires and b) I CAN’T STAND Instant-Love in books.

    I don’t mind vampires as such, but only if I was previously aware that the book was about vampires. I wrote a post about Sneaky Vampires once – books that suddenly spring a surprise vampire on you.

    *resents*

  8. The Discovery of Witches has been on my shelf quite a while, but I still have to read it. I’m glad you enjoyed it that much! I really hope the romance doesn’t bother me too much, because that sounds like something that could annoy me. Great review (:

  9. Yea – I am hoping that the second book is as good as the first – and that the characters grow a bit during the second and third books. Diana can regain her confidence and Matthew can learn to relax a bit.

  10. I really liked this one as well. I do agree that I thought the vampires (especially Matthew) were a bit too perfect, but I can usually overlook that. I’m hoping Diana gains more of a spine in the next book as well. Great review!

  11. I read this one ages ago, and really enjoyed it in spite of its flaws. (Not sure what I’d think of it now, though; I might have to reread it just out of curiosity.) loved the detail that the author threw into the narrative, and it made it so very believable. I also found a rare female protagonist with whom I could relate, since she seemed more interested in learning and knowledge than in fashion and romance, and that’s not a common occurence anymore.

    I did, however, dislike that Matthew suffered from serious “alpha male” syndrome, and it seemed strange that Diana put up with it so easily most of the time. She didn’t strike me as the type to let a guy take the lead like that, at least in the beginning.

  12. I love fantasy books like these! I’ve always been interested in spells and potions and whatnot, so this book sounds right up my alley :) And it helps that you (or your mom?) gave it a good review :D And I love the format of your reviews. Quite handy, that!

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