“A Discovery Of Witches” by Deborah Harkness || Review and Discussion

I had heard a lot of good things about this book on Booktube and GoodReads, so when I saw it in the bookstore, I immediately bought it. I was really excited to see what the fuss was about and I was not disappointed as the book was exactly what it promised to be. Not only that, but I also came across an article, which claimed that the All Souls Trilogy will soon become a TV show. I knew I had to read all three books before that happened because that’s just me… And now that I’ve read A Discovery of Witches (and am halfway through Shadow of Night), I cannot wait to see the cast and release date for the televised intepretation of the trilogy!

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Synopsis

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“A Discovery of Witches,” tells the story of Diana Bishop and Matthew Clermont. Diana is a witch who had refused to use her powers after the violent death of her parents when she was young. Matthew is a vampire who is trying to understand why supernatural species are different from each other and the reason for their dwindling numbers. It is a world full of supernatural creatures and regular people and no one is safe when there are so many secrets. But Diana manages to get a hold of a long lost alchemist script that Witches, daemons, and vampires have been searching for centuries. She doesn’t look at it much and gives it back to the library, but word gets out and Diana’s magic becomes the point of fascination for the supernatural who start following and threatening her.

But Matthew wants to protect her and he does despite the rules. The two slowly fall in love throughout most of the book and become inseparable. But Matthew didn’t tell her that this is forbidden for vampires and witches. Their love makes them hunted by their own people, but Diana cannot protect herself. Her mother cast a spell on her and she cannot use her powers when she wants to. So she needs a mentor – someone to teach her how to be a witch when she holds so much power. And Matthew will find her one.

Review

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The book starts out a bit slow in my opinion. The first chapters seem to lack conviction. We get bits and pieces of this world without really any backstory or reasons behind certain traits in Witches, daemons, and vampires. For instance, when she said daemons, I imagined something completely different. Took me a long while to get used to this particular representation because it was never explained. Furthermore, the first part of the book is pretty slow. It’s only towards the half that we really get cracking on what’s going on. At that point the book becomes addictive. I would describe it as a bit of the Da Vinci Code, a dash of Twilight, and some Outlander. Pretty interesting mix to be honest. I gave this book 4/5 stars on Goodreads because it makes you really want to know what happens, which is usually what I want from my books.

There were some aspects of it that I loved and some that I really disliked so I will give you the gist of it.

The Good

The science and history 

I loved the parts of the book where we get to learn about genetics and historical influences on the lives of the supernatural. I found it fascinating how Deborah Harkness managed to sneak that into the story at first and then make it into an integral part of the development of the characters and the focal point of the storyline. Seeing how the DNA of a creature tells the story of its family was really fun to read.

The relationship development

It didn’t happen all at once. While Diana was obviously attracted to Matthew, we didn’t really see her automatically surrender to that attraction. She needed him and he was there, but it took a while for her to admit feelings and for them to reach that level, which I thought was pretty realistic. While the relationship has its’ good and bad sides, it is interesting as both characters are quite intelligent and well-versed and it’s entertaining to read all the lines that they shoot at each other. Quotes from literature and discussions on history and science seem to make them fall in love with each other. Which is refreshing, because she doesn’t just crush on a breathtaking creature. He’s pretty for sure, but that’s not what Deborah Harkness puts the emphasis on.

The setting

 

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Image by Oxford Today 

 

The setting was fun for me. The library, the cottage, the fortress… they were so well-created that I could see them while reading. But it wasn’t overly descriptive. I think the setting was chosen with care to make the history of it book really play an integral part of the story. Each location gave away something about the characters that made them really come to life in my mind. Oxford is a mystical place on its’ own and I could see her being followed in the misty mornings. Moving even further, we have the magnificent Bodleian Library, which most bookworms have heard of. Just looking at a picture of it makes me smell old parchment. I think it’s a perfect choice of location for this type of supernatural historical fiction. Then we have Sept-Tours… Deborah’s magical way with words really made this location have a life of its’ own in my mind.

And if you want to hear something really REALLY cool, just read this little excerpt from Oxford Today –The Bodleian is home to the Gutenberg bible, J.R.R. Tolkien’s watercolours for The Hobbit, Shakespeare’s First Folio, and four thirteenth-century copies of Magna Carta.” The watercolours for “THE HOBBIT”!!  You know how much I love J. R. R. Tolkien… (if you don’t, then it’s about time you check it out!).

The mystical storyline

 

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Image owned by the Bodleian Library / MS. Ashmole 1431

There were a lot of things that drew me in. One of them was the magical book that everyone wanted to get their hands on. Ashmole 782 has been lost for centuries and now that Diana has found it, the world of supernaturals is after the infamous lost book. What is particularly interesting is that the idea about Ashmole 782 and Elias Ashmole is actually taken from the real- life Oxford University. Elias Ashmole gave a lot to the library and his works are still kept there as I write this. With the exception of one lost manuscript. Yes, you guessed it…. Deborah Harkness explained in an interview that, as a scholar, she was always immensely intrigued by what that lost book contained. So there you have the inspiration for the mystical Book of Life.

At first, we think that the book tells the story of how and why daemons and vampires came to be. But towards the end of it, we find out that it hides the possibility of supernaturals mating and having children. And the pages we see, portray Matthew and Diana getting married and then, having a child. That could be what saves them from extinction. While reading it, I thought this was a genius turn of events. Can’t wait to see what happens when they get the book!

The Not-So-Good

 

Killing Gillian

The murder of Gillian doesn’t seem to faze Diana one bit. Yeah, maybe a little bit but she finds out how Gillian died and that changes nothing for her. This is probably one of the things that REALLY PISSED ME OFF about this book.

When Diana is kidnapped and tortured by the other witch, she is told that Matthew killed Gillian because she sent Diana a picture of her dead parents….. and yes, Diana and Gillian were not friends but still… she asks him about it after and he’s like “yes. I did.” And she’s like “oh. Okay.” What? WHAT? She honestly has absolute faith in him when all reasoning points to the other end of the spectrum. And it’s very mush similar to Twilight it’s representation of the woman’s complete lack of control, willpower, and logical thinking when faced with her lover’s desire to convince her.

Diana’s Emotional Maturity 

Our main protagonist comes off as pretty weak and overly emotional at times. For someone who is not in her teens (or early twenties) and has a Ph.D., she seems to be underdeveloped in the emotions department. While making a female character that needs her partner’s protection is nothing new in the world of vampire literature, I had somewhat higher hopes for Diana’s character. I wish Deborah Harkness had taken a page out of YA books and made her female lead just a bit more badass in this book. I’m not saying that every single female protagonist needs to be a feministic interpretation of her world, but Diana’s need for Matthew to calm her down was a bit much.

Matthew’s Need To Control 

So this is not necessarily something I “hate”. And that is because I knew this was coming from the moment I read the synopsis on the back of the book. How? Because he is an immortal, old, wise, strong, male vampire and the woman he falls in love with, who is not a vampire, not as strong, far from immortal, has not lived for 1500 years and is a little bit emotional at times. Does that sound familiar? Kinda like every other portrayal of a vampire in the history of literature. And naturally, all these vampire males are extremely protective of their mates, even when the mates do not want or need to be protected. The male vampire will protect you regardless of what you want, claiming to be protecting you from your own like of brains when it comes to safety. Makes it sound kind of emotionally abusive, doesn’t it? So what makes it okay? The fact that he is a bloodsucker and cannot help himself. Just ask Edward Cullen or J.R. Ward’s “Black Dagger Brotherhood”. They can tell you all about the protective beast.

Final Thoughts 

I liked “A Discovery of Witches”. I liked it a lot despite the several issues that I mentioned above. They weren’t a deal breaker for me personally (while they might be for some people). I am a sucker for the typical vampire romance and I can’t help myself. In the begining the book reminded me a lot of Twilight, but the deeper I went into the world, the more substance I found in the story and it became addictive. What more can you want from a supernatural historical fiction?
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