Monday, April 2, 2012

Review: A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

If you love a great vampire love story, but could do without the teen angst, you'll love DISCOVERY OF WITCHES, the first book in the All Souls Trilogy!

Witches, vampires and daemons...oh MY!  Historian Dr. Diana Bishop is determined to live her life as an ordinary human and not as one of the famous Bishop witches, descended from Bridget Bishop, the first witch burned at the stake during the Salem Witch Trials of 1692.  Unfortunately, magic seems to find her anyway while at Oxford's Bodleian Library. 

Diana opens a manuscript which was believed to be lost, since its last sighting was over one hundred years ago.  She feels magic in the manuscript, but ignores it and sends it back, thinking that she is sending away the magic that lurks within the pages. 

"Even at a safe distance, this manuscript was challenging me - threatening the walls I'd erected to separate my career as a scholar from my birthright as the last of the Bishop witches."

Only, it's too late.  She has attracted the attention of all the creatures in Oxford, and beyond, including the attention of Matthew Clairmont, who happens to be a geneticist and a vampire.  Matthew is a very old vampire with a long history and a small, interesting family. Enter the vampire, his family, their history, and a love of wines.

Let me talk about Diana a bit.  She is a historian, which is highly convenient considering how old Matthew Clairmont is.  Even though she has her weaknesses, and has blocked out her powers her whole life, she's tough, and I like that.  One of the wonderful things about Diana's profession is her love of libraries and books, which Harkness puts into words for her readers:

"The smell of the library always lifted my spirits - that peculiar combination of old stone, dust, woodworm, and paper made properly from rags."

This was only one sentence among a hundred describing the sights, sounds, and smells of the various libraries that Diana visits throughout the book.  I don't want to ruin any of the plot by telling you any more.

In fact, soon after the first 100 pages, I stopped taking notes on people, place, or favorite passages.  The first hundred or so pages were interesting, but it wasn't until I hit a certain point that the book sucked me in.  The investment of those first chapters paid off.

Vampire love story?  Really?  Yes, really.  Deborah Harkness creeps very close to the line where style and substance meets cheesy cliche, but she does not cross it.  There is one particular conversation toward the end of the book that made me groan aloud, as it reminded me of another, ridiculous, storyline I had read a few years ago.  Luckily for us, the author saves us from the nausea and keeps A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES from turning into a gooey mess.

This book has been described as the "grown up's" Twilight.  Let me be clear about one thing - there is nothing profane about it..  Instead, there are complex discussions of historical people and places, strategy and logic, as well as genetics and biochemistry.  Somehow, it is not at all boring, I promise.  Not once did I find myself wanting to skim over the science.  Instead, I was drawn further into the story, as it made me think.

If you're a fan of the paranormal love story, but could do without the teenage angst, you will not be disappointed by A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES.

Now, I can't wait to read the sequel SHADOW OF NIGHT coming in July 2012!

Book Extras:
Deborah Harkness website, Facebook, Twitter,
Read an excerpt
Warner Bros. bought the screen rights.

About the Book: (also available in paperback!)
A Discovery of Witches (Book 1, The All Souls Trilogy) by Deborah Harkness
  • Reading level: Ages 18 and up
  • Hardcover: 592 pages 
  • Publisher: Viking Adult; First Edition edition (February 8, 2011) 
  • Language: English 
  • ISBN-10: 0670022411 
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670022410

  • About the Author:
    (Once I read the author's biography, I got a better sense of why this book was so intelligently written and conceived.)
    Full Bio at her website
    Deborah Harkness is a professor of history at the University of Southern California. She has received Fullbright, Guggenheim, and National Humanities Center fellowships, and her most recent scholarly work is The Jewel House: Elizabethan London and the Scientific Revolution. She also writes an award-winning wine blog.

    *Disclosure:  I purchased a copy of this book for my personal library.

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    Zibilee said...

    This was one of my favorite books of last year. I am so glad you loved it! Fantastic review on it today!

    bermudaonion said...

    My sister loved this book but I don't think it's for me.

    A.M. Swan said...

    "If you're a fan of the paranormal love story, but could do without the teenage angst, you will not be disappointed by A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES."

    I so agree with you and I too have called it Twilight for grown up women. I wanted to think it was silly, but I couldn't put the darn thing down and now I can't wait to read #2. Highly recommended for the paranormal women's fiction crowd, which I am firmly planted in (and write).

    Kwizgiver said...

    I'm with you--this was a fun, summer read. My book group shared it and we had a lot of fun discussing it.

    Unknown said...

    A Discovery of Witches was a disappointment. Entire chapters could - and should have been omitted. The protag rides a horse. She goes to yoga. She goes rowing. She talks to her long distance aunt for purely expository purposes. It's asking a lot for a reader to go along with all of this, while grappling for some reason to even like Diana. The other troublesome thing with Harkness' book is that narration should advance plot, not indulge an author's vast knowledge on this or that arcane subject, although these elements could have been interwoven successfully. They just weren't. They're baldly, well, self-indulgent. Attempting to ride the wave of vampire literature straight into the beach is fine. But if one is going to be derivative of Twilight and write 'for grown-ups' one should look to Bella to see why she is so loved by readers. Or turn to the Bible of the genre, Interview With a Vampire, to discover just why Louis, Claudia, and even Lestat find their way into the reader's heart. With her chops Harkness could have done better. Let's hope in future she does. I've 'removed it from my device'. And I'llskip the movie.

    Sheila (Bookjourney) said...

    I checked this out from the library but ran out of time to read it. Now I need to check it out again :)

    Anonymous said...

    I was drawn in by all of the references to actual persons and events. It was a wonderful mix of history and fiction, and I am doing my own countdown until the next book comes in July!

    Anonymous said...

    The prose in this novel is laboured, the characters are two dimensional and the relationship between Matthew and Diana borders on abusive rather than love. The Ashmole book, which was introduced as a key plot point early on in the novel, dissappears almost immediately and Harkness is left to fill the remaining pages with weak, and often contradictory, backstories which usually offer nothing more than meaningless distraction rather than important rhetorical devices. If you are a fan of unimaginative cliches then this book is for you.

    Anonymous said...

    Absolutely beautiful book, full of mystery and excitement. I read it a year ago, and recently couldnt figure out why a certain gentlemen I met intrigued me so until I reread the description of Matthew Clairmont... I think I met the real one. :D

    Jennifer Chapman said...

    This book stands alone and shouldn't be compared with anyone else (twilight,etc.) This is not a book to rush into. Sit back relax, take in the details and you will be blown away. I have learned so much and have respected these characters. I love it, so much!

    forevermorereviews said...

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