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.
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
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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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
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