A Discovery of Witches Was Unexpectedly Intriguing

BlogHer Review

Upon first glance, A Discovery of Witches, by Deborah Harkness is not a book I would usually be attracted to. In fact, after reading the synopsis of this book, I thought immediately that it wasn’t for me. But for some, unknown reason, I found myself requesting to read it. A potentially risky move, it could have been a long couple of days. I wasn’t a fan of the popular Twilight series and I simply don’t get the vampire obsession that has been sweeping the nation, so you can understand my hesitation.

The novel even begins like the Twilight series, with a quote:

“It begins with absence and desire.

It begins with blood and fear.

It begins with a discovery of witches.”

Wonderful. I settled in for what I thought would be a long 500 pages.

Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised. My initial thoughts were that the writing was captivating and the story alluring. Harkness cleverly marketed to a largely adolescent genre to an adult audience. I really appreciated the intelligent angle she took with her characters and thoroughly enjoyed the more sophisticated setting. Initially set in Oxford’s Bodleian Library, the characters are strikingly educated, passionate and even relatable. Harkness eases you into this unorthodox world often reserved for a much younger audience by first gaining your trust by showing the more ordinary side of each character. In fact, she gives them a depth that I didn’t expect from of a book of this genre.

At first glance, their lives seem to be anything but extraordinary. Diana Bishop, a Yale professor, is visiting Oxford where she spends her days as any young professional might. She rises early to workout before heading to the library to research and often ends her day with a relaxing yoga class. Much like the author, who is also a professor and writes a wine blog<?a>, Diana is a lover of wine and literature which is not something that I would expect of a witch.

While, Diana prefers this normal existence to her true destiny as an extremely powerful witch from a well known family, her normal existence is turned upside down and she soon comes to the realization she cannot escape her destiny as a witch when she accidentally summons a powerful, bewitched manuscript from the depths of the Bodleian.

Mix in an attractive, albeit dangerous, vampire; a love story and a cast of characters that could rival the wizarding world of Harry Potter and you have an appealing story full of historical references and science-based reasoning. By cleverly combining practical references with fantasy, A Discovery of Witches effectively balances the fantastic nature of the story and plot. Or stories as it turns out.

While this novel is laced with stories, adventures and intricate plot advances, it offers very little resolution. As the plot and the suspense built, I found myself wanting to read more about the vanished manuscript.

Though she doesn’t offer much closure, I would consider Harkness’ first novel a success. She presumes readers will continue to read the remainder of her trilogy and what can I say? She certainly knows how to make you want to read more.

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