Posted in Reviews

Review: A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

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Diana is a historian, a tenured faculty member researching ancient alchemical manuscripts, and a witch. She refrains from using her powers as much as possible after the untimely death of her parents when she was young. Unfortunately for her, she unknowingly calls a bespelled book up from the archives and begins a chain of events that lead to her finding out things she never knew about herself and her family, much less the world.

A Discovery of Witches appealed to me because of the fact that the main characters were lovers of old books and the pursuit of knowledge. After having seen the book a few years ago, but not wanting to pay the price for it, I was happy to find it in the ebook section of my local library.

The book is cited as historical fiction, but a lot of the plot takes place in modern times. One of the appealing elements of the novel is that Matthew, the vampire love interest, is very old and has witnessed a large amount of historical events. Since Diana is a historian, this means they have some pretty interesting conversations. I found this to be an enjoyable aspect of their budding relationship. Rather than having some hot and heavy sudden affair, Diana and Matthew discuss alchemical imagery used in ancient texts, banter about The Origin of Species, and discuss the implications of historical events. Passion does come, but it is tempered somewhat (even though the fall-in-love time frame is rather short).

At times it seemed that Matthew was around for a little too many historical events. I was willing to let this slide, though, because the creature races in this world are very much obsessed with intellectual pursuits. Vampires wonder about science and biology, specifically (and not unexpectedly) anatomy and circulatory systems. Daemons are artistically-inclined savants, exceedingly clever and gifted. Witches are known for their incredible familial lineage and variety of powers. As such, it makes a fair bit of sense that a vampire would surround his or herself with the powerful intellectual minds of any period.

The book seemed a bit long for all that went on in the story. I didn’t get tired of reading it, but it just felt a bit longer than it should have been. The story was interesting, but not really unique. You can generally guess where many stories are going. The good stories just make you guess a bit more than the bad ones. I didn’t expect every twist and turn, but the basic gist was pretty easy to ascertain (witch who doesn’t use her powers actually has extraordinary powers she must learn to control and her love with the vampire will somehow unlock or be the key to a mystery).

I don’t begrudge the book for that, though. I enjoyed the unique look at creatures, though I find it odd that there are only three types, aligned in neat little categories. I would consider this novel a READ WITH CAUTION. It was a pleasant book, but had its flaws. The predictability of the story wasn’t too overt, but I could imagine it annoying someone easily. Somehow, the novel manages to both be a basic love story and not be a basic love story. I applaud the book for showcasing a variety of families and love, as well as not resting on the tropes commonly associated with and expected when it comes to fantastic creatures.

Please note that this is the first book in a trilogy. As such, the story wraps up fairly well, but still does a good job of hinting toward the next book. I’m not sure if I’ll continue on with the trilogy, because the library only had the first book and I’m not too keen on the way the books are priced (the second ebook is $4.99, but the third is $11.99). I will probably grab them if they are available from my library in the future, though.


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