Ooops... We're in Love With A Discovery of Witches
By Ashleigh Burroughs on June 14, 2011
Deborah Harkness touches on Darwin and the Salem Witch Trials and Einstein and the Knights Templar while introducing us to all manner of creatures who apparently inhabit everyday spaces right along side of us humans. Vampires and Oxford scholars roam the 579 pages of A Discovery of Witches, and after a chapter or two you hardly notice that your world view is now slightly askew. It's an interesting and diverting experience, although it left me vaguely dissatisfied at the end.
I've managed to avoid the current vampire craze on television and in hard cover. Anne Rice lost me years ago after her soft-core porn content began to overwhelm to good vs evil portions of her novels. The notion of the chase, the unconsummated but longed for commingling of species, desire mixing with taboo, these seem to be common themes in the vampire realm. It's not usually my genre of choice But Deborah Harkness has a deft touch and a subtle way of dealing with the subject. Teetering on the edge of becoming a romance novel, replete with heaving breasts and perfect jaw lines, A Discovery of Witches is a book you could share with your pre-teen reader with impunity.
The main character's “heart stopped beating for a fraction of a second” and I admit that I read the passage twice and felt a nice little tingle in mine both times.
“'What do you smell?'” “'You'” “After that it was hard to concentrate on the food.” I knew just what she meant, and the tiny smile on my face proved it.
“...and after that...” where that is tucking a lock of hair behind an ear and you find yourself actually holding your breath.
Ms. Harkness takes soft-core erotica right up to the edge of parody, and then she makes you laugh. He's delightful, she vomits up her last 3 meals. Just on the brink of falling off into too much damsel in distress, our heroine is back being brave enough for both of them. The book is alternately very modern and creepily Gothic. It's serious and it's giddy. From vampires to romance to Sam Spade getting Miss Wonderly out of an unsafe environment to swiping at Anne Rice's ne'er do-well New Orleans vampires it was literary whiplash at times. I had to wonder if Ms. Harkness was paying attention.
Ultimately, to the soundtrack of The Pointer Sisters crooning Slow Hand, there lurks a real love story. He knows the inner Diana, and he loves it. He saw her in a way she rarely admitted to herself was true. Is she brave or is she stubborn? That's a question I've been asking myself a lot lately; those who would protect their women were very present in the pages of this book. Safety, a subject about which I have thought about in great detail recently, is a major theme in A Discovery of Witches, and Ms. Harkness gets it right. There's a fine line between caring and smothering; I was right there with Matthew and Diana as they wrestled with it. You may see her giving in. I saw her loving him enough to say yes.
I've always wondered what a porter did and now I know. Oxford figures in many of the mysteries I read and yet I've never had a clearer picture of the geography and the architecture and the history of the place until I read this book. When she's good, she's very very good. I know the look his mother threw at Matthew –- mine can still stop me dead in my tracks with hers. The physical reaction to destructive rage she describes is mine, exactly and completely.
Those moments overshadow my disappointment with an occasional jarring choice of words or absurd sentence. My bigger issue is the fact that this is the first in what is probably going to be a long long long series embracing a far-flung cast of characters all of whom have spent nearly 600 pages seducing me into thinking that Ms. Harkness was going to masterfully pull them all together in one neat and tidy package. No such luck. Instead of being a complete novel, a story in and of itself, I can safely tell you, without revealing anything of substance, that nothing really happens in this book.
After investing all this time, I'm peeved.
And I'm addicted.
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