Saturday, March 7, 2015

Book Review: A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

Pages: 690
Genre: Adult Fiction, Fantasy
Released in: 2011
Publisher: Headline
I purchased this book with my own money.
This book is #1 of the 'All Souls' Trilogy



When historian Diana Bishop finds an alchemical manuscript in the Bodleian Library, it's an unwelcome intrusion of magic into her carefully ordered life. Though Diana is a witch of impeccable lineage, the violent death of her parents while she was still a child convinced her that human fear is more potent than any witchcraft.

Now Diana has unwittingly exposed herself to a world she's kept at bay for years; one of powerful witches, creative, destructive daemons and long-lived vampires. Sensing the significance of Diana's discovery, the creatures gather in Oxford, among them the enigmatic Matthew Clairmont, a vampire geneticist.

Diana is inexplicably drawn to Mathew and, in a shadowy world of half-truths and old enmities, ties herself to him without fully understanding the ancient line they are crossing. As they begin to unlock the secrets of the manuscript and their feelings for each other deepen, so the fragile balance of peace unravels.


'A Discovery of Witches' is one of those books that really intrigues you. It had pretty good reviews/ratings, It's got an interesting title, And the story is very different from what I have read before. I really wanted to buy it, so I bought it. However, I have been putting off reading it for a couple of years because I was intimidated by it (mostly because it was over 600 pages). I finally decided to give it a shot. Was it worth the hype? Yes. and No.

When I started this book I thought I was reading at quite a rapid pace. This story and characters fascinated me and I wanted to soak up all of the interesting details like a sponge. The main character Diana is a witch living among humans. She doesn't want to be a witch and tries to avoid using magic at all costs. She accidentally stumbles across an important piece of literature that has been charmed by a very powerful witch and now all of the daemons, witches and vampires in the city are after it. As the novel progresses characters learn more about the book and each other which only makes it more interesting.

I always think it's really cool to learn the rules of a new fantasy "world". In 'A Discovery of Witches' there are vampires, witches and daemons living alongside humans. They have to follow rules to ensure they don't expose themselves to humans. There is also a bit of vampire romance, which had me comparing this to vampire romances I have read. Does he sparkle in the sunlight? Does he eat or sleep? How old is he? How old fashioned is he? I kind of liked that it was a vampire romance because I think comparing books is kind of fun. This novel takes the common witch and vampire stereotypes and messes with them a little bit.

While I did like the main character Diana, I didn't think she was very real or easy to understand. She was the kind of strong martyr type, but for a good part of the book she is perceived as weak because she does get injured badly a few times. Matthew (the vampire) is quite broad and tall, intelligent, old-fashioned, And, has a few secrets. The relationship between them, might seem a little instant to some and because he is a vampire he acts as the authority in the relationship. This is slightly annoying, but tolerable, because it seems like they belong together.

This book definitely has a few cliches such as the dysfunctional supernatural family (and friends), the love at first site cliche and the forbidden love cliche. These are all made bearable because of the truly interesting story line. The plot develops early on, but more details and obstacles continue to appear as the story goes on. This was a really well thought out story and ended up going a lot of places I did not expect it to go.

My main dislike for this book was that it didn't end where I think it should have ended. This big thing happens and I honestly thought shortly after, this would be the end of the story. The story continued (and got less interesting) and another big thing happens, the book continues... The actual ending was pretty anti-climatic. In my opinion, they could have split this book in two, and just had more books in the series.

Overall, I think this one deserves 4.5/5 stars. It was a really interesting story and if you are a sucker for a vampire romance, then you will have a lot of fun reading this. The story is a bit long so keep that in mind if you aren't used to reading such large novels. I will definitely pick up the sequel at some point, because I want to know what happens next. Also keep in mind that 'A Discovery of Witches' is an adult book. It was a smart story, but it wasn't too difficult for me to follow it. It did have intimate scenes, but it wasn't littered with them.

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Jessica Cangiano said...

That does sound a bit off-putting for sure. I wonder if perhaps the author wanted it to have a sequel or be part of a series, but was shot down on that front by the publisher and thus condensed everything into one book? I haven't read A Discovery of Witches yet myself, so I can't speak to ending directly, I'm guessing based on your assessment of things (and even if I did/do read it, it would still be a guess :)).

I love a big book like that. Something you can return to not just for days, but often weeks at a time, has a deeply rooted appeal to me. Perhaps that why I flew through many of the hefty British and Russian classics in my youth (I swear, I did not find War & Peace to feel like it was anywhere near as long as its page count.)

Big hugs & many happy weekend wishes coming your way!
♥ Jessica

Natalie_vintage_girl said...

It's actually part of the 'All Souls Trilogy' so I think maybe theseries could have just been made longer. While big books intimidate me, I don't have any issues reading them if the book feels complete at the end. I felt like this had more than one story in it and while I did enjoy it at first (enough to consider investing in the sequel) I lost interest by the end because the book felt more than finished by the time I reached the end.

I feel like Trilogies are the latest thing and author's are being encouraged to market their books as three book series, whether the stories are fit for three books or not.

I think anyone who is interested in history or science and likes a bit of fantasy might really enjoy this one. Atleast at the start.