Rating 5/5 Stars
A Discovery of Witches Deborah Harkness
Feb 2011 Viking Penguin
“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.” –Goodreads
Guys. Guys. This book. Holy shit. I don’t think I have been this obsessed or enamored by a book in years. As a disclaimer (and the reason why I have not been present for some time) is because I’m writing a book, and there are vampires and other supernatural creatures in it so I have been immersing myself in the literature and pop culture, as well as myths and legends. This book has been on my to-read list for a while and I thought it was finally time.
I’d only gotten about 70 pages in, or less, when I decided that I was absolutely in love with it and I ordered the second. I loved it so much that I tried to pace myself and read it slower so that I could savor it, much like the last season of Gilmore Girls on Netflix. It’s one of those books that reminds you of why you love reading in the first place.
But why did I like it so much? I have been a huge vampire fan since I read Carmilla in a literature class, so I’m predisposed, but I will tell you why you will like it, even if you don’t like fantasy. Deborah Harkness is a historian/scholar who has won fellowships such as the Fullbright, and it shows. Her writing simultaneously makes me want to strive to be a better writer and makes me feel slightly inferior. This reads like a grown-up fairytale: it’s full of credible history, forbidden love, alchemy, and supernatural creatures. I think Harkness saw this supernatural genre and thought: ‘OK now who is going to write something great for adults?’ I saw it described as historical-fantasy which is perfect.
Something I constantly complain about in this blog is weak characters. To me, characters should always come before plot. Without strong, developed characters nobody would care about the plot. Her characters are so vivid and alive (or undead), they have woven histories and depth and they leap off the page. Also the vivid Oxford setting was amazing, and really made me want to travel there.
Possible the only negative thing I could say about this book, although it wasn’t really a negative for me but may be for the author’s intentions, was that I found myself not really that interested in Ashmole 782, the primary mystery of the book. Maybe towards the way end, but other than that I really just loved following Diana and Matthew. I found myself skimming through some of the more historical and scientific parts, but it is certainly clear that Harkness did her research. She proved (and you’ll get this when you read it) that this genre is not full of sex. If anything I would have liked a little more. 🙂
Something I thought was beautiful, and I can’t say much without giving it away, but Harkness weaves in a story from Diana’s childhood that caught my breath when I read it. These are the moments in a book where I think, damn, if only I could write like that. The careful planning and outlining is evident.
This is certainly not a story that relies on plot and a linear progression from point A to B, it’s like the characters in the book: woven in a mysterious web of past and present, history, romance and fate. This is probably my most informal review I’ve ever written. But, I can’t help myself. I feel like a giddy teenager falling in love with reading all over again. This book is truly magical and I’ve already started the second. I know I will be sad when it comes to an end, but who knows, this seems like great movie material! I’m delighted to have my first five star book on here. I rarely give 5 stars because to me, that is perfection, and how often do we really read a book like that? I could count them on my hands. But this book is perfection. I can almost guarantee you will love it and if not, you will appreciate it for what it is: a work of art.