A Discovery of Witches: More Than Twilight Could Hope To Be
When I first heard the title A Discovery of Witches, by Deborah Harkness, I was instantly intrigued. I've read a lot of books, a few with witches, but not many and I've enjoyed most of them. I don't want to be a witch, don't get me wrong, it's just a trope that fascinates me. Always has, so I knew I wanted to get my hands on this book.
Then I heard there were vampires involved. My interest, well, waned somewhat. I mean vampires? They are so last year, right? Right! Sparkly vampires; blood-thirsty vampires; kinky, sex-crazed vampires; vampires with their "heart on their sleeves?" I am so over them!
Deborah Harkness' vampires though? They are a whole new kind of vampire, at least when it comes to their romantic relationships.
Matthew Clairmont has a few of the common vampire characteristics. He is very old. He is rather pale. Very strong. Attractive. Even smells good. He knows how to work those pheromones. And then there's the whole blood thing, of course. He does drink it. And then there's the, how shall I say it? Chivalric attitude? Borderline chauvinistic attitude? Matthew has to be a "manly man?"
As a matter of fact, yes. Matthew tries, quite frequently, to be all "Edward Cullen" over Diana. He tells her what to do. He uses his vampiristic "charms" several times to get his way. And this ticked me off. But miracle of miracles -- Diana is the opposite of Bella Swan. She's strong, independent, intelligent woman who sticks up for herself. She has her typical "female" moments, don't get me wrong, but after the tears are spent, she picks herself up, brushes herself off, wrings out her clothes and keeps going. And she's not afraid to tell Matthew exactly what she thinks.
I've seen several reviews where A Discovery of Witches is compared to Twilight. In my opinion, it's an easy comparison to make. Yet, there are differences. Important differences and they start with Matthew. Matthew may grumble about when Diana contradicts him. He may whine when she does what he told her not to do. He may continue to overprotect Diana. But he also listens to her. He learns and changes. His love is not so all-consuming that he cannot see her way and work with her, as a couple, to accomplish what needs to be done. There is a whole new level of maturity to their relationship. Yes, this couple have their obsessive moments, but they are few and far between. They probably do have that "can't live without you" mentality. Yet somehow, it makes sense for this couple in ways it never made sense for Edward and Bella.
As you come to know the character of Matthew, it also begins to make some sort of sense. He is old-centuries old. He was a knight. He lived by that code of chivalry that has long been dead. He comes from a time when men did do everything for women. And he has been alone, with exception of others of his kind, for a long time. Luckily, you don't get to be such an ancient creature without having the capacity for change. Diana is a creature Matthew never expected to fall for and it is so adorably obvious. Diana is a modern woman through and through. She has been alone for quite awhile and has learned to depend on herself in many ways. At the start, she is hiding her witch's blood from everyone-including herself. In turn, she has learned to rely on herself more than other women might in her situation. This leads to interesting clashes between the two characters; clashes I quite enjoyed! Despite this independent streak in each character, they come together quickly and completely. Their relationship, a relationship born not only on attraction, but mature love and a willingness to accept each other, faults and all, is what makes this book work.
Deborah Harkness is a historian first and foremost and it's clear she knows her stuff. She is also a writer and it's clear she knows her stuff here too. She has thought out these characters, mapped out their every reaction, every thought and deed. These characters are strong in their selves, their history and their futures. This, these characters, are what make A Discovery of Witches such a great, worthwhile read. I once told a friend that this book was like Twilight for adults. She fussed at me and she was right. A Discovery of Witches is so much more than Twilight could ever hope to be.