Deborah Harkness Discovers Fantasy for Smarties

BlogHer Review defines the word discover as: "to see, get knowledge of, learn of, find or find out; gain sight or knowledge of (something previously unseen or unknown): to discover America; to discover electricity." In A Discovery of Witches Deborah Harkness leads us on a journey into a fantastical world of witches, daemons and vampires.

From the first pages, we are introduced to Diana Bishop, a scholar doing research at Oxford's Bodlean Library. In the course of her work, Diana has requested an ancient manuscript called Ashmole 782 from the stacks. The document behaves oddly in her hands, and after making a few cursory notes she sends it off to be refiled. Diana is the last of a distinguished line of witches, you see... but magic is something she has tried to avoid or squelch in her life.

The re-emergence of this long-missing manuscript starts a series of events that Diana can't ignore. Creatures of all kinds have been searching for Ashmole 782, and they are now drawn to the library -- and Diana -- in ever-shrinking circles. Chief among these beings is Matthew Clairmont, a researcher and scientist in his own right and a vampire with his own agenda.

I enjoyed the characters in this book. Diana and Matthew are well-rounded and we see sparks flare between them, almost in spite of themselves. (For some reason the "mini-movie" inside my head kept showing me Kate Beckinsale and Daniel Craig playing the title roles. I still can't figure out why!) Side characters too are richly drawn. Matthew has a vampire "mother," for example and we are later introduced to a daemon best friend for him as well.

Fantastic fiction is my favorite kind of reading. I like to dive into different worlds and meet unimaginable characters. For all their "otherworldliness" we also meet these people in their daily lives of working out, having meals... doing their work that seems to be inextricably tied to their nature. It's plain that much research went into this book, on subjects ranging from history to genetics to wine and more. All these things help paint a rich portrait, particularly of Matthew who has had many lifetimes. The story leads us from England to France to America and is quite sweeping in scope. If I had a quibble with this book, it's that for all it tries to encompass, it's obvious that there is more planned for this story -- and this book is 579 pages! It may be hard to take this book to the beach this summer, as it would be like stuffing a brick in your beach bag but I'd highly recommend checking it out.


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