Book Review: A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
Title: A Discovery of Witches
Author: Deborah Harkness
Publisher: Penguin Books
In 2011 Deborah Harkness, a historian, delved into the fantastic with a story of witches, vampires, daemons, and their lives mixing with humans and each other. This story was entitled A Discovery of Witches (2011), and became an instant hit.
Diana Bishop is an alchemical historian studying at Oxford. She is also a witch, one that tries pushing the supernatural side of her into nothing. One afternoon while she is preparing for a convention, Diana discovers a magical manuscript and she is suddenly thrust into an adventure that has all sorts of creatures, even her own kind, after her. Alongside is Matthew, a biochemist, vampire, and a man Diana begins falling in love with.
It doesn’t take long for Diana to discover what creatures will do to get to the magical manuscript she accidentally discovered. She is hassled by witches, followed by daemons, and even kidnapped by a witch and vampires and left for dead in an abandoned castle. The interesting twists Harkness puts on the clichéd tale of witches, vampires, and daemons is that this manuscript everyone is trying to get to is really a book that may explain why creatures exist in the first place—and how to prevent extinction. Diana travels this unique plot with strong survival skills, even when she is knocked down hard.
I really enjoyed reading A Discovery of Witches, the first installment of the All Souls trilogy. Harkness thoroughly develops her characters, so that each one is very separate from the others, yet still relatively human and relatable. Her descriptions of the characters, as well as the surroundings and actions, are fresh and consistent. The best part of the entire novel was the interesting plot line and twists Harkness incorporates at opportune moments. Based on this novel, I get the sense that she understands how to pace, where to put certain scenes, and why things need to be in a certain order.
While the story was welcoming, there were many things I disliked about this novel. First, Diana seems to be exercising a good chunk of the time. I do realize why there will be exercise scenes in novels: it adds space for the character to think and reflect, while still developing the character further in that he or she is doing something with his or her time. However, when Diana goes running, then rowing, the running, then to yoga, then yoga again, all in a matter of pages, it does get a little repetitive. At the same time, I was definitely turned off by all the precociousness of Diana and Matthew. It makes sense that two characters such as them, scholars at such a prestigious college with many awards and scholarship under their belts, would have classic, high tastes, but it is slightly annoying and unrelateable when the characters share a three course meal of raw venison, or oysters with several vintage wines. I suppose the use of these scenes is a matter of personal preference.
Overall, the story is unique and different, something worth a read. It’s a breath of fresh air because it’s more mature than a lot of the “paranormal romance” novels out anymore, especially Twilight, but take that with a grain of salt.
Deborah Harkness’s novels A Discovery of Witches and Shadow of Night, as well as her scholarly work can be found at Barnes and Noble in-store and online, and at Amazon.com. She is also the author of a wine blog, Good Wine Under $20. The rights to the novel have been purchased, and a film is in the making for Harkness’s spellbinding novel.