Title: A Discovery of Witches
Author: Deborah Harkness
Release Date: February 8, 2011
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
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.
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.