Title: A Discovery of Witches
Author: Deborah Harkness
No. of Pages: 579
Genre: Speculative Fiction
“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.”
Thoughts: Warning – gushing to follow…
Have you ever read a book that made you smile for its entirety? A book where everything about it was enjoyable, from the descriptions to the characters to the plot and beyond? One that took a storyline that has been rehashed one too many times and made it completely new and exciting again? If you have, then you too must have experienced Deborah Harkness’ A Discovery of Witches. If you have not, well then, get thee to a bookstore or library and read it immediately!
Vampires, witches, daemons – oh my! Granted, these are not the traditional vampires, witches, and daemons. Ms. Harkness’ adaptations of the mythologies maintain the danger that immediately comes to mind when either creature is mentioned. Even better, Ms. Harkness takes her mythologies one step further. These are not humans gone bad or humans born with special powers. These are all non-humans, creating an intense us-versus-them dynamic in which the creatures are only trying to survive in a world run by humans. While it is not a major plot point, it is enough of a difference to establish an intensity to the proceedings, as Matthew and Diana try to resolve their issues while maintaining their cover as “normal”.
What sets A Discovery of Witches apart of the rest of the genre are the descriptions, accurate historical details, and adult emotions involved. The descriptions throughout the novel are simply sublime. The reader feels a part of the novel, whether the action is occurring in Oxford, southern France or in New England. Ms. Harkness has the ability to evoke the scent of a wood-burning fire or the loamy scent of earth with a few choice words. Similarly, in a novel where one of the main characters is 1500 years old, historical details and accuracy are a must in order to lend credence to his age and experiences. Ms. Harkness accomplishes this through well-researched and fun historical vignettes that close the gap between history and present-day. Even better, while there is definitely a romantic element, there is none of the juvenile emotional drama that permeates paranormal romance these days. Both Diana and Matthew have a healthy respect for each other as individuals and for their individual pasts. They make no demands of each other and just revel in being themselves. It is refreshing to see a relationship where two people come together as equals and do not get caught up in the acquired baggage each brings with them.
While one could argue that there have been enough books involving this unholy trinity, A Discovery of Witches outshines them all. Reminiscent of The Historian and Practical Magic with its Gothic feel and absolutely gorgeous descriptions with the added benefit of a heroine who can more than stand up to any Big Bad, the greatest drawback to the novel is the waiting period required until the release date of the second book in the series.
Acknowledgements: Thank you to the Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association for my review copy!