A Grown-Up Vampire Story: A Discovery of Witches

BlogHer Review

It’s the typical story of girl meets boy. Boy is tall, dark, and handsome, seemingly possessive of his quickly forming relationship and young fair damsel, and unfathomably rich, with a powerful and influential family. Oh, and he’s a vampire. Wait, what book were we talking about?

All joking aside, it IS unavoidable to make some comparisons to a certain teen romance involving a certain vampire hero while reading Deborah Harkness' A Discovery of Witches. That said, the comparisons end there in this thoroughly un-teen level novel that mixes magic, scholarly descriptions, and intrigue in a cauldron of a book more towards The Historian than Twilight.

Diana Bishop is a historian of alchemy, spending a year away from her position at Yale to further delve into her study at the Bodleian Library in Oxford. She has resisted her family’s calling and her place in it as the last of the powerful Bishop witches for decades following the tragic murder of her parents in Nigeria when she was seven. However, when one ordinary day she calls up a seemingly regular manuscript by the name of Ashmole 782 she sets in motion a course of events that will require her to face her under-the-service powers like never before. Ashmole 782 is a manuscript that has not been seen in centuries, and all three of the world’s magical creatures (vampires, witches, and daemons) put a claim out to it -- including a certain tall, dark, and handsome vampire by the name of Matthew Clairmont. Matthew and Diana begin an affair that is as quick and passionate as it is illegal in the magical world. Secrets come to the surface and a worldwide journey, and eventual battle, will unavoidably begin.

While the novel is wide in scope, traveling from Oxford to the French countryside to a tiny farmhouse in Madison, New York, the book tends to drag worse than a Yeti’s knuckles. Part of this seems to be because it is the first in a future trilogy, and the first half of the book sort of seems like a long building-up explanation into the background of the story. Once the overly-scholarly descriptions are somewhat over halfway through, Witches picks back up at a great speed, leaving you with a “what happens next?” feeling and a wish for the next in the series to be published already.

Some of the more “random” parts of book, such as the in-depth descriptions on wine that are paragraphs-long and the historical explanations make sense once you look more into the author, Deborah Harkness, who is herself a historian, professor, and connoisseur of wine. That said, the novel could have been chopped in places while still maintaining its integrity, such as the long period in France, where Diana and Matthew do little except read books, ruffle his vampire mother’s feathers, and take long horseback rides through the countryside.

All complaints aside, once the novel got going, it really got going. Pages flew like… er, magic and I was interested in what was going to happen next. Overall? I’m looking forward to the next in the trilogy, to be released next year.

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