Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness Review

A richly inventive novel about a centuries-old vampire, a spellbound witch, and the mysterious manuscript that draws them together.

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.

Debut novelist Deborah Harkness has crafted a mesmerizing and addictive read, equal parts history and magic, romance and suspense. Diana is a bold heroine who meets her equal in vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont, and gradually warms up to him as their alliance deepens into an intimacy that violates age-old taboos. This smart, sophisticated story harks back to the novels of Anne Rice, but it is as contemporary and sensual as the Twilight series-with an extra serving of historical realism.

It begins with absence and desire. It begins with blood and fear. It begins with a discovery of witches.

When historian Diana Bishop opens 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 de Clermont, a vampire geneticist. Diana is inexplicably drawn to Matthew 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...

Any budding authors would have heard this golden nugget of advice a thousand times over. Write what you know, and in A Discovery of Witches Harkness has done just that. Diana Bishop, a historian staying in Oxford, and witch, discovers Ashmole 782, a missing alchemical manuscript surrounded by magic.

Diana’s discovery of this book brings vampires, witches and demons flocking to Oxford, and among them the mysterious Matthew de Clermont, vampire scientist, who specializes in genealogy and believes the manuscript holds the secret to the origins of the supernatural species and aid their survival. However, while Matthew and Diana search for the book once more, with other creatures lying in wait, the chemistry flares causing the couple more trouble.

A Discovery of witches is by no means a quick and easy read. Firstly it’s long very long, and if you love non-stop action, this probably won’t be the book for you. Likewise, I don’t think this will be the book for you, if you know nothing and are not interested in University life. But please don’t get me wrong; A Discovery of Witches is anything but boring.

The complexity of the characters, they mystery that surrounds Ashmole 782 (there is a lot of questions this book will raise, and you’ll have to carry on reading till you know, because Harkness offers no hints, just drops beautifully written bombshells,) and other mysteries that if I mention will just spoil the whole plot will keep you coming back for more and more.

The Twilight comparisons are there, mainly brooding over protective vampire, but Harkness’ sophistication, the deeply and accurately embedded Science, just makes the book fresh and exciting. However the overbearing protective vampire is just as appealing too.

4 and ½ stars out of 5… 

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  1. I've seen this book out and about for a while now. I picked it up from the library a couple times, but never actually opened it. I really like this review, so I'll pick this book up again and try to read it!

    Good review. Thanks!

  2. Try as I might I just couldn't get into this book. Hopefully it was just timing and I'll try again another time. A good friend read it a loved it.