A Discovery of Witches Left Me Wondering [SPOILERS]
By Neena on June 21, 2011
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness is a fantasy novel that weaves stories of love, history, and adventure into it's pages.
The book begins at Oxford in England.
Diana Bishop appears to be an ordinary, young professor of Alchemy that spends a lot of time in the Bodleian library doing historical research.
However, she is anything but ordinary. She is a witch -- a direct descendant of the Bridget Bishop from Salem Massachusetts who was burned at the stake in the 1800's for practicing witchcraft.
Diana is actually one of the most powerful witches -- she just doesn’t know it. It seems that she made a promise to live her life as a human and turn her back on her powers. But those powers keep peeking through here and there -- making it hard for her to ignore.
On this day, in particular, she recalls a historical manuscript from the stacks of the library. Right away she notices that it is bewitched with some type of spell.
She decides to ignore the magic and read the book because she wants the info for her research. When she is finished, she turns the book back in.
The problem is that this action attracts the attention of other “creatures”.
Oh yes, there are vampires and daemons in this book as well. All of these creatures appear outwardly human but possess powers and abilities that humans don’t.
These creatures want to get their hands on the book, too. Apparently the book, Ashmole 782, had been missing for centuries and holds many secrets about the creation of creatures.
One particular vampire, Matthew Clairmont, speaks with her in the library and starts to follow her. He becomes attracted to her.
But different species of creatures are not supposed to mix with each other.
Matthew may have seemed threatening at first, but as the story progresses it is clear that he is protecting her from the other creatures that begin to pose a threat.
Diana falls for Matthew too.
The story moves from England to Matthew’s home in France. He hides Diana here with his vampire mother for safety.
We start to learn about his history. He is an old vampire -- born in the century of 500 A.D. The author touches on many historical events as she tells Matthew’s story.
Despite Matthew’s efforts Diana is kidnapped and tortured and they are no longer safe in France.
So they come to Diana’s home in upstate New York and enlist the help of her aunt - another witch.
A Discovery of Witches left me somewhat unsatisfied.
It is a long book - 579 pages - and while interesting, is somewhat directionless.
It took me a while to warm up to the characters, but once I did -- I felt that they were somewhat weak.
I imagined more force and fury behind people with such otherworldly powers.
Diana could never get a handle on her magic and was prone to panic attacks - it turns out that she was spellbound and these were a side effect. But I expected her to overcome that at some point.
Both Matthew and his mother were supposed to be formidable. However they came across as, well, nice -- despite the hunting and killing that was going on. And Matthew’s age turned the past into a huge black hole that was almost too large to grasp and relate to.
And daemons were just goofs.
All of this would still have worked if the story line was more focused. The book shifted from the search for Ashmole 782 to several different agendas. The discovery of why creatures came to exist, the unwillingness of the powers that be to allow relationships between different types of creatures, the possibility that creatures were losing their powers.
Throughout the book Diana’s own magic was breaking through, and she was slowly seeing the different things that she was capable of. I wanted to see good conquer evil. I wanted to see her grow and master her abilities.
But after 579 pages, she was not able to do this. She had to go back in time to find a witch that could teach her to use her powers.
After 579 pages - not one agenda had been resolved. There were no answers. Clearly the author plans a sequel.
As a reader this was frustrating. Having spent so much time and energy reading the book -- I wanted some closure.
I would have expected a strong story line -- with it’s own climax and conclusion within a larger story line that could lead to a second book.
The author did a nice job of developing the relationship between Matthew and Diana - and had they been ordinary people, this would have been a sweet love story.
I hope the next book will give us the answers we are looking for.
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