Yes, It's About Vampires, But You Should Read It Anyway

BlogHer Review

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness centers around alchemy scholar Diana Bishop -- a witch by blood who has elected not to use her power.  That's right. Someone who *could* clean their house with a snap of her finger, but doesn't. Clearly, she does not have a 16 month old child. In fact, when Diana comes across an alchemy text that appears to be affected by magic in the research library, she quickly sends it back to the stacks. Unbeknownst to Diana, that particular text is considered very valuable by all three types of "creatures" -- witches, vampires, and daemons -- and was thought to have been both spellbound and lost. Many powerful creatures had attempted to break the book's spells throughout history with no success.

Within days, the library where Diana studies is awash with witches, vampires, and daemons hoping to catch a glimpse of the book and the non-practicing witch who was apparently able to break its spell. Diana quickly learns that most of the "creatures" are not friendly, and will do whatever it takes to bring the book into their own possession. One of the most aggressive of these creatures seems to be Matthew Clairmont, a vampire and geneticist with whom Diana develops an unusual and forbidden relationship.

Let's be honest -- with the recent fanfare over a certain book-slash-movie empire whose main characters are vampires and werewolves, the mere mention of a book containing similar themes can tend to provoke eye-rolls. Vampires just feel a little done, don't they? And vampire romances? They feel really done, right? I thought so too. However, I was pleasantly surprised by A Discovery of Witches. Yes, the book included many a vampire-cliche, but it also included beautiful descriptions of every-day activities that I felt pushed this novel beyond the trappings of your typical vampire romance novel. In fact, while a romance is an integral part of the plot, it doesn't feel like a romance novel at all.

One of my favorite passages of the book described Diana rowing and what it felt like to fly through the water on a foggy morning. As a rower myself, I found that passage to be a beautiful description of an all-too-familiar activity, and it resonated. For me, the mixing of the more mundane details alongside the extraordinary helped me to bridge the gap to the fantasy world that I'm not usually particularly fond of, and is a testament to the fact that Harkness' writing was strong enough to carry me through the sections of the plot that didn't particularly excite me at first glace. 

Overall, I found myself pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed A Discovery of Witches. I only wish that I hadn't come across this trilogy until all three books had been released, because I'm just not a very patient person, and would prefer not to wait several years to conclude the story!