Title: A Discovery of Witches
Author: Deborah Harkness
Genre: Fantasy/ Romance/ Paranormal
Publication date: 2011
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.
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness was a bag of corn and green peas for me. You know what I mean. You don’t? Well, it means that it has a lot of things I liked (like corn) and a lot of things that made me ugh (like the peas). But the fact that I stayed until 9 a.m. to finish it suggest that maaaybe there was more corn in the bag than damn green peas.
I learnt about the book from the TV show with the same name. Now that I’ve read the book I’m astounded at how closely the TV Show is following the book plot – more than any other book screening I’ve ever seen. I really liked the show – well, most of it – so I decided to check out the book since we all know books are always better. And that’s where the bag of peas and corn appeared.
The story follows Diana, an unwilling Bishop witch who tries to keep magic out of her life and focus on her blooming academic career. All this goes down the drain when she calls up, by accident as it seems, an old manuscript thought to be long lost to the supernatural community. Throw into that a sexy vampire, a pinch of bad witches, deamons for good measure and a great deal of untamed magic and you have yourself 500+ pages of breathtaking scenes and sleepless nights.
Well, not exactly. I’ll say more like 300 (and yes, the book is 500+ pages).
The science-y part in this book and the extensive amount of quotes from Darwin’s Origins along with numerous others ancient texts is overwhelming. I’m all for good back story and sticking to your character’s view of the world through the layers of interests, passions and experiences, but come on! Some will say, but Diana and Matthew (the sexy vampire I mentioned who, for me personally, is the more interesting character of the two) are both scientists and this is integral part of their life!
Fine, you’re right. But I am not a scientist, you’re probably not either. And this is a paranormal romance story – your average reader will not be. Make it clear, keep it evident but don’t dull the experience. I have to say I skimmed 10% of the book because of those parts. I honestly was not prepared to read about Diana working on her paper more than twice. Thank god people kept trying to kill her or interrupt her so we can get on with the story.
Another thing, which would be more than apparent for another writer like me or an experienced reader, is the amount of info-dumping there was. My head is still spinning from it. At least it made me feel better about my own writing 😀 Now I have the hope that even if I info dump half as much as this book I have a shot at being published. Don’t me get started on the head-hopping (also know as third person omniscient point of view) – but that’s something I personally hate so you may like it, I don’t know.
In any case I don’t want to sound like all of it was bad. If it was, would I have stayed until 9 a.m in the morning to finish reading it? Probably not. While the story of girl meets vampire, girl fall for vampire, vampire claims her as his one true bride is vastly overdone Deborah Harkness adds a lot of new elements to the plot that are somehow making things fresh and still entertaining. Diana is a witch who poses another complication like the cross-species relations; we have deamons instead of the usual werewolves – very smart, usually mentally unstable creatures; and we have the academic angle which takes us another step further away from Twilight.
And then there are my favorites – timewalking and mythology even though those are not vastly developed in book one. Ever since the appearing of the former and the foreshadowing of the later, I was more and more eager to read on. I am even ready to forgive Diana for being the Deus Ex Machina with all her powers just so I can figure out how those elements develop over the story.
So I guess I had a lot to say judging by the length of this review but this was indeed a very conflicting book for me. It’s hard to say much when you absolutely love or hate a book but when you’re not sure… I can go on forever. I’ll stop here and give this book a 3/5 rating for keeping me engaged and entertained (I need to mention that the romance element worked well for me).
What about you? What rating would you give? What are your thoughts and takes on A Discovery of Witches?
P.S. – The vampire yoga cracked me up even though I don’t think it was intended to be funny. Sorry for the spoiler 😀