I Want to be Transported to Deborah Harkness' World Again

BlogHer Review

This is a novel caught up in it’s own weight. I mean this literally and figuratively. A 580 page hardback behemoth that nearly caused my arm to fall asleep under the strain of holding it up to read in bed, A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness takes itself quite seriously, as most vampire novels tend to do. It is heavy with descriptions of dark, dusty libraries, filled to the brim with details and mythology, and packed to overflowing with vivid love-struck characters spanning the breadth and span of the last 500 years or so. There is much drama and earth shattering import in nearly every interaction, each kiss, each perceived betrayal, each new character, and each torturous conflict. I got swept up in it. I felt plunged into a different world from the first page. And though it took me a little while, roughly 50 pages or so, to get into the more formal rhythm of the book, I quite liked it.

The basic plot of the novel follows American historian Dr. Diana Bishop as she continues her research into alchemy while on a fellowship at Oxford. One afternoon while camped out at the ">Bodleian Library, Diana requests an ancient text, opens it and immediately feels the potent magic emanating from the book. Did I mention that Diana is the descendant of a long line of mighty witches but refuses to tap into her own magical abilities? Immediately upon the opening of the ancient text, Diana is a target and drawn into a series of chaotic and confusing events, pursued, trailed and stalked by a myriad of various creatures desperate to get their hands on the manuscript, beautiful and mysterious scientist and Oxford professor Matthew Clairmont chief among her pursuers. Did I mention Matthew is a vampire, and has spent his immortal life growing wealthier, hotter and more educated while hobnobbing with the best and brightest of literature, politics and science throughout the last 500 years?

Inevitably Diana and Matthew fall in love. They are drawn to each other. Of course they are. But their love cannot be. Of course it can’t. Witches, vampires and daemons, each with fairly stereotypical mythologies, co-exist, barely perceptibly, among humans in the world of this novel. Yet these three types of creatures are strongly encouraged to stay segregated from each other, so as not to draw attention to their strangeness amongst the human population. Cross creature love is forbidden. Of course it is.

I’m sure there will be numerous, somewhat accurate comparisons calling this the “adult version of Twilight” or proclaiming “Diana and Matthew are the new Bella and Edward,” but I think the similarities are few and the differences significant. The characters that Harkness has created are fleshed out, three dimensional. The book is impeccably researched and layered. There are many mysteries that unfold throughout the book, revealing new information, new characters and turning the plot on its head. While the romance between Diana and Matthew is the anchor of the story, it’s not the only story here.

Harkness falls into some of the traps that the Twilight series does too. Matthew is constantly trying to protect and care for Diana. Diana, because she has never accessed her own magic abilities (with good reason) can sometimes come across as a little naive and helpless. But she’s brilliant. She’s powerful and she comes into her own as the book progresses. Without becoming a vampire. These are adult characters, with the flaws and insecurities and damage and the depth of real people. Yes, some of their romantic banner is corny, but don’t we all sound a little corny when we first fall madly in love?

I look forward to reading the next books in this trilogy. I want to see how Diana and Matthew’s relationship progresses. I want to see Diana grow into her full power. But mostly I want to get swept away again: galloping on horse back through the French woods, studying fragile old manuscripts in Oxford or chatting with grandmother’s ghost in a cozy, haunted house in New England. I want to be transported into Harkness’ world again soon. It’s magical and frightening and heavy with anticipation.

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