Review: A Discovery of Witches

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: A Discovery of WitchesA Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
Series: All Souls Trilogy #1
Published by Penguin on December 27, 2011
Genres: Paranormal, Romance, Urban Fantasy
Pages: 579
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher

Deborah Harkness’s sparkling debut, A Discovery of Witches, has brought her into the spotlight and galvanized fans around the world. In this tale of passion and obsession, Diana Bishop, a young scholar and a descendant of witches, discovers a long-lost and enchanted alchemical manuscript, Ashmole 782, deep in Oxford's Bodleian Library. Its reappearance summons a fantastical underworld, which she navigates with her leading man, vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont.

First things first: before I get into the serious reviewing, I want to state for the record how much I enjoyed reading this. Thanks so much to Penguin for sending me a copy! Although vampires, witches, etcetera have been done to death (or undeath) in recent years, I still adore a well-done story on any of the aforementioned topics.

Harkness’ world is an interesting one, benefiting largely from her love of history and wine. In fact, Harkness works as a professor of history, not as a romance novel author, so it would be a mistake to dismiss her work as merely paranormal romance. What drew me into the story initially, which had a somewhat slow windup so far as action is concerned, was the beautiful writing and the view into academic life. I’m a big nerd, so getting a window into Oxford and the Bodleian was such a treat.

Now, about the romance. I’m sorry if you think I spoiled something by revealing that Diana’s going to get with Matthew, but, honestly, what reader didn’t see that coming? Their love story I still have a love/hate relationship with.

At first, Matthew and Diana did not get along all that well, but quickly they begin to feel a very strong attraction to one another. This I liked, because they did not fall in love at first sight exactly, despite some claims otherwise later on. They had to develop a rapport and it took some time, although not much. Still, the crazy speed of their love for one another does not bother me, because in times of extreme emotion and danger, people (or creatures) are apt to move along at such things at a greater rate. They are very soon able to see the best and worst in one another’s characters, and to accept it.

What did irk me about them was that Diana, an incredibly strong woman, both magically, mentally, and physically (thanks to all of that exercise, although she still is not going to beat a vampire) seems to follow Matthew obediently a bit more than I am quite comfortable with. She has no issue with him watching her sleep or with his obsessive need to protect her at all times. And, for a large portion of the book, everyone around her is so worried about her that she never gets to go anywhere by herself. It seems odd to me that the Diana of the beginning of the book would put up with that. However, Diana does maintain her willful streak, occasionally putting her foot down, Matthew’s opinions be damned, which made me able to accept some of those other aspects.

Earlier, I mentioned creatures. This is the other part of Harkness’ worldbuilding that you should know beforehand, because it’s pretty cool. In this alternative history (same historical events and characters but with paranormals added), there are four different races: humans, witches, vampires and daemons. Most of those are pretty self-explanatory, but daemons are essentially hyper-creative, and supernatural in some way I do not quite understand yet. Undoubtedly the reader will learn more about this (and the mysterious facts of the other races) later in the trilogy, since that is kind of the reason everyone wants to get their hands on the magical alchemy book (Ashmole 782) Diana has been the only one to locate for hundreds of years.

Go get yourself a case of delicious wine, pop the cork on a bottle, and get reading! The paperback version is available now with the completely gorgeous cover you see pictured above. Book two Shadow of Night will be published some time this summer. Can’t wait!

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