Book Review: A Discovery of Witches – Deborah Harkness

Title: A Discovery of Witches
Author: Deborah Harkness
ISBN: 9780670022410
Pages: 592
Release Date: February 8, 2011
Publisher: Viking
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary:

Diana Bishop is a witch in a world where witches, vampires, and daemons live alongside humans.  The daughter of two very powerful witches who were killed in Nigeria when she was young, Diana has done everything she can to suppress her powers and live as a normal human.  But when Diana encounters a rare manuscript inside the Bodleian Library at Oxford, witches, vampires, and daemons crawl out of the woodwork and begin to harass her about it.  She also meets vampire, Matthew Clairmont, and refuses to associate with him despite his obvious interest in her, but ends up working with him when it becomes clear he is willing to protect her from the other creatures who want something from her.  Through Matthew, Diana begins to learn about herself, her place in the world, and the existence of a much larger and older conflict that she is now in the middle of.

Review:

A Discovery of Witches is a fascinating look at a world just underneath the one in which we currently reside.  Humans go about their daily routines, oblivious to the fact that there are witches, vampires, and daemons living alongside them.  The only time humans become suspicious is when these different groups mix, hence why they are discouraged from fraternizing with one another.  There are real mysteries behind each group, many unanswered questions that create holes.  The different creatures hope that the answers are within the book that Diana has found within the Bodleian Library, one that has been missing for a very long time, hence the interest in her once she discovers it.

Deborah Harkness’ worldbuilding skills are thorough and meticulous in A Discovery of Witches.  There are certainly many questions, but she does a wonderful job crafting history and circumstances, both with the setting but also the characters.  Harkness handles each set of creatures expertly; witches have their own history, especially with Diana’s parents.  Diana herself is the last Bishop, a descendent from the Bishop burned at the stake in Salem, Massachusetts during the witch trials.  On the other hand, Matthew Clairmont is a vampire who has been alive for a very, very long time.  Harkness does a wonderful job keeping an air of mystery around Clairmont, only delivering the smallest clues as to who he is and what he wants.  As the reader gets to know him better, they begin to understand more about the world he comes from and what he’s seen over the course of the years.

Diana herself can be difficult at times.  She is not willing to acknowledge the extent of her powers and stubbornly refuses to accept that she has set in motion an irrevocable chain of events, one that seems to center around her.  Her denial is understandable; after all, that’s how she has been functioning ever since her parents’ mysterious death when she was a little girl.  As she begins to own herself and understand her capabilities, she really begins to transform into a different woman altogether.  Her victim complex and insistence on being saved, rather than helping herself, was frustrating at times, but she was an engaging, complex, and realistic character that definitely grew on my by the end of the novel.

The academic nature of A Discovery of Witches will appeal to any fan of reading, especially those who (like me) romanticize academia.  Diana spends her days in a library, reading old manuscripts.  Harkness’ descriptions are such that the reader can smell the mustiness of the pages, breathing in the dust, absorbing the amazing setting.  Having spent last summer in Oxford, I can definitely say that Harkness evokes the atmosphere of that place perfectly.  The shroud of mystery that surrounds everything only adds to the appeal of the novel.

I can’t say enough great things about A Discovery of Witches.  I’m sure other readers will find holes and disappointments within its pages, but I relished the experience of reading it so much that none of that stuff seems to matter.  This book was pure enjoyment for me, from beginning to end.  I loved the world Harkness created, and thought the characters were exceptionally drawn.  That doesn’t mean I loved all of them, just that the author did a wonderful job developing them and making them three dimensional.  I have so many more questions, and can’t wait for the second novel in this trilogy to quench my desire for some more answers.

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Comments

  1. I saw the gushing of love for this book on Twitter, but you are right, there is both love and hate for this book out there. I got very excited about it though, and ordered it on audio from the library. I can get into these kinds of worlds.

  2. I saw the gushing of love for this book on Twitter, but you are right, there is both love and hate for this book out there. I got very excited about it though, and ordered it on audio from the library. I can get into these kinds of worlds.

  3. Glad to see you liked it! I did, however, read a negative review of this book. I am still excited to read it, but I was wondering how you felt about the “wordy passages”.

    The other reviewer argued that it took her twelve pages to talk, to think, to move. Did you find that to be true as well?

  4. Glad to see you liked it! I did, however, read a negative review of this book. I am still excited to read it, but I was wondering how you felt about the “wordy passages”.

    The other reviewer argued that it took her twelve pages to talk, to think, to move. Did you find that to be true as well?

  5. Jennifer – This is definitely a wordy book, but that doesn’t always bother me. In this case, I was so engrossed in the book that it didn’t.

  6. Jennifer – This is definitely a wordy book, but that doesn’t always bother me. In this case, I was so engrossed in the book that it didn’t.

  7. Steph from Steph and Tony Investigate also really loved this book, and after reading your stellar review I think I need to move this one further up on the pile. I do like the thought of witches, demons and vampires all living hidden among the human population and think that this book would probably make for a great read for me. Wonderful review!

  8. Steph from Steph and Tony Investigate also really loved this book, and after reading your stellar review I think I need to move this one further up on the pile. I do like the thought of witches, demons and vampires all living hidden among the human population and think that this book would probably make for a great read for me. Wonderful review!

  9. I’m not usually a paranormal reader, but the history and depth of the story drew me in and I couldn’t put this novel down. Somehow, the author made all the magic and mysticism seem very realistic – almost like we could be among daemons and witches and vampires. I too am anxiously awaiting the next book.

  10. I’m not usually a paranormal reader, but the history and depth of the story drew me in and I couldn’t put this novel down. Somehow, the author made all the magic and mysticism seem very realistic – almost like we could be among daemons and witches and vampires. I too am anxiously awaiting the next book.

  11. My publicist just sent me this book, and I’m eager to read it. Terrific review, Swapna!

  12. My publicist just sent me this book, and I’m eager to read it. Terrific review, Swapna!

  13. My sister loved this book and said she couldn’t put it down.

  14. My sister loved this book and said she couldn’t put it down.

  15. I’ve been dying to read this one! Despite it’s size (it’s quite the tome!) I brought it with me to CA & hope to devote a great deal of time to reading it!

  16. I’ve been dying to read this one! Despite it’s size (it’s quite the tome!) I brought it with me to CA & hope to devote a great deal of time to reading it!

  17. I have only read great things about this book 🙂

  18. I have only read great things about this book 🙂

  19. Although the premise sounded intriguing to me, I wanted to hold off to see how the reviews were because of its length. You’ve convinced me to give it a go though!

  20. Although the premise sounded intriguing to me, I wanted to hold off to see how the reviews were because of its length. You’ve convinced me to give it a go though!

  21. I want this one so bad! The minute the TBR Dare is over, I’m buying it. It sounds so fascinating.

  22. I want this one so bad! The minute the TBR Dare is over, I’m buying it. It sounds so fascinating.

  23. This is definitely one for my wishlist – even if others haven’t enjoyed it, it sounds just perfect for me. I am right with you on romanticising academia, plus I love great worldbuilding.

  24. This is definitely one for my wishlist – even if others haven’t enjoyed it, it sounds just perfect for me. I am right with you on romanticising academia, plus I love great worldbuilding.

  25. This one is on my list….seems like a “me” book. The more I hear about it the more excited I get. Thanks for the review.

  26. This one is on my list….seems like a “me” book. The more I hear about it the more excited I get. Thanks for the review.

  27. Hmm, I am not sure about this one. I think Diana would REALLY get on my nerves.

  28. Hmm, I am not sure about this one. I think Diana would REALLY get on my nerves.

  29. I’m skeptical because I’ve only heard good things, but the book appeals to me and I’m actually happy to say that the initial summary didn’t because it’s kept my expectations from being too high.

  30. I’m skeptical because I’ve only heard good things, but the book appeals to me and I’m actually happy to say that the initial summary didn’t because it’s kept my expectations from being too high.

Trackbacks

  1. […] a dark read, to be sure, but one that lovers of the new genre of “fantasy-lite” novels (think A Discovery of Witches and The River of No Return, to name two recent hit novels) will thoroughly […]

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