A Discovery of Witches is an Exercise in Delayed Gratification
In Deborah Harkness' first novel, A Discovery of Witches, protagonist Diana Bishop, latent witch and American scholar studying ancient alchemy texts abroad, discovers a bewitched manuscript that opens with a sigh at her very touch -- and a centuries old vampire whom she affects the very same way. Her relationship with both manuscript and vampire come under close scrutiny of the Congregation, a group of witches, daemons and vampires purported to uphold order in the supernatural world, but it soon becomes apparent that the Congregation is more sinister than scrupulous.
A Discover of Witches tries very hard to be an intelligent read. Harkness does her darnedest to demonstrate her considerable knowledge of alchemy, history, biology and beyond. The problem is that she is absolutely screaming the fact that she is a scholar into the faces of her readers. No joke here, the word "scholar" must be used at least 50 times in as many pages.
Yet the most problematic aspect of this book is Harkness' obvious intention to parlay her concept into a series, more specifically, an adult-oriented Twilight saga. To really hammer the idea home, Harkness frequently sends her entirely chaste, would-be lovers out into the twilight to take long walks and comment on the beauty and safety that twilight brings. Harkness even makes reference to Matthew's "artfully tousled hair" on page 52, which is clearly Robert Pattinson territory. The author is obviously anticipating this book to be an introduction to a grand saga. Unfortunately for the reader, it seems Harkness is looking at the entire opus rather than the individual song: the story doesn't really start moving until roughly 300 pages in and then it abruptly cuts off when the action starts rolling, presumably in hopes of leaving the reader thirsty for more.
A Discovery of Witches could have been 300 pages long and captivating. Instead, novice writer Deborah Harkness relies too much on her technical knowledge and insignificant descriptions of turtlenecks and loafers rather than concentrating on the more terrific and terrifying aspects of her story. This entire novel reads like a very long, very detailed set-up for something bigger. Did I enjoy it? Not especially. Will I read the next one? Probably. I'm a sucker for handsome vampires (hi Rob!).